Dan Melson: December 2007 Archives

At a very young age, my parents bought me a book of Aesop's Tales. Aesop has gone out of style, probably because these are stories with a moral lesson, and it seems the modern society is actively averse to moral lessons. But one of the ones that has stuck with me was the tale of the dog with a bone and the reflection in the water.

It happened that a Dog had got a piece of meat and was carrying it home in his mouth to eat it in peace. Now on his way home he had to cross a plank lying across a running brook. As he crossed, he looked down and saw his own shadow reflected in the water beneath. Thinking it was another dog with another piece of meat, he made up his mind to have that also. So he made a snap at the shadow in the water, but as he opened his mouth the piece of meat fell out, dropped into the water and was never seen more.

It is precisely this mistake that I'm writing about, and it applies to all real estate transactions. The dog's mistake wasn't that he wanted more. That's normal and natural, and I've certainly never done business with anyone who didn't. The dog's mistake was wanting the other benefit as well as his own, and not realizing he placed the benefit he thought he already had on the line in order to obtain it. But, as he discovered, the goodie that the dog in the water had was only a reflection of his own goodie. In order for the dog to have his own goodie, the dog in the water had to receive his. They are mirror images of the same thing, and one cannot exist without the other.

A lot of what gets written alleging to be good financial advice violates this very simple lesson.

Some things are a cost of doing business. If I don't pay for all the things that enable me to serve my clients, I'm out of the real estate business. Yes, they cost money, but if I didn't spend that money, my income would be zero. For consumers, this includes things like property taxes and HOA dues and Mello-Roos. If you want that property, they are inseparably attached. It is correct to include them in calculations as to whether a property is worth acquiring or worth keeping; it is not only pointless but counterproductive to try and get out of paying them.

This applies to the costs of acquisition and selling, as well. Be certain you understand the real costs involved. They may be large, or seem large, but doing without any of the professional services that have evolved is likely to end up being a lot more expensive in the end. If one is cheaper than another, there is a reason. Find out why; and while it may be that someone is just comfortable making less money, other explanations are such as they do not provide important services that really do make a difference are more likely to be closer to the truth. Don't expect them to tell you this, though, especially since most people will just believe fairy tales like "full service - discount price", and won't investigate why prices or loan quotes are lower. It shouldn't surprise any adult that sometimes it's worth paying extra. If this were not true, none of us would have our own cars, let alone seven seat luxury model vehicles. Cars are about the most expensive mode of transportation there is, but the vast majority of all adults in this country own and drive at least one. Including me. The reason is because the abilities they convey are more valuable than the costs they entail. if you don't pay the cost, you don't get the benefit, and yet many people will fool themselves into trying.

Most importantly, though, the lesson applies to negotiations for the sale of real estate. There's nothing wrong with making the best deal you can, but once you have the contract, honor your end of the bargain. Negotiate issues revealed later reasonably, and in good faith, based upon their own merits. It sometimes happens you find out the other side is getting something fantastic out of the deal. That's not a problem. It's a benefit. Insurance they're going to carry through with their end of the deal, which is a good thing because you wouldn't have signed off on it unless you thought you were getting about the best deal possible, right?. Real estate transactions are based upon making both sides happy with their side of the deal. You can't force someone to sell a property to you or buy it from you. Even attempting that is a felony. There can be circumstances that make it more likely someone will accept a proposal that they might not in other circumstances they would not, and very few people have unlimited time, money, or energy for a transaction to happen. But whatever the other person - other people - in the transaction are getting out of it, those benefits belong to them, and if it appears as if those benefits are in jeopardy, the other side can usually get out of a purchase contract. It may cost them something in some instances, such as the deposit, but successful suits for specific performance are rare, and more so where there's a competent agent involved on that side. Not to mention all those court costs.

The practical upshot of all this is that if you fail to act in good faith, that good deal that you thought you were getting is completely gone, and there's a significant chance you'll end up spending thousands of dollars on legal action as well. Figure that if the other side wants out, they can get out. In fact, many over-aggressive later negotiations give the other side grounds to exit the contract without penalty. Nobody's going to buy a property where they can't run the water or flush the toilets, but once the sellers agree to fix that problem in an acceptable manner, don't try to get anything extra out of them. If the septic system is bad, they can either install a new one, (maybe) fix the existing one, or hook the property up to the sewer. Asking them to re-plumb the entire house is not (usually) reasonable, and asking them to re-wire the entire house is, in the immortal words of Monty Python (Book of Armanents, chapter two, verses nine through twenty one), right out. If you find out you're not getting such a great deal, then you're likely to be the one looking to exit the contract, and if they fail to give you satisfaction with a newly discovered issue, maybe you should want to. There's nothing wrong with exercising the inspection and appraisal contingencies, assuming you have them in the contract, or forcing the buyer to consummate the transaction or get out of the way of someone who will, or getting the lender to deliver the loan they said they would.

Greed envy is one of the banes of a successful transaction, and if you don't have a successful transaction, you don't have anything positive, and you quite likely have significant extra expenses. To go back to the dog and the bone, a failed real estate transaction is worse, because not only have you lost your bone, you've lost everything you spent in obtaining it, and you still don't have what you wanted, whether it is your new property or cash for your property or new financing. If you make your initial choices based upon the benefits to you, the fact that someone else is getting a benefit as well is not something to cause you heartburn and make you want to take it away from them. That way lies disaster. Instead, think of it as insurance that you're going to be getting that benefit that you wanted enough to sign the contract or loan application in the first place. And if you're not going to be getting the benefit you thought you were, maybe you're the one who's going to want out.

Caveat Emptor

I got a search for how one spouse could sign while the other was out of town, and act on their behalf. Since both spouses usually need to sign real estate papers, this is a real concern.

Actually, almost anybody you designate can sign for your real estate transaction, whether or you're available. The usual thing is you're out of town for some reason when closing happens, and so your spouse signs for both of you, themselves in their own right, and you by Power of Attorney, but it covers all kinds of situations, and not just real estate.

The document required for this is called a Power of Attorney. You must sign it and have it notarized that it was really you that did so. In it, you designate one particular person who has the right to undertake an action or group of actions, and they then act on your behalf, as your "attorney" for this matter.

Powers of Attorney can be made for all sorts of things, not just real estate transactions. For instance, pretty much everyone should have a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. Powers of Attorney can be very broad and ongoing or limited to one specific action in a limited range of time. You set this up at the point in time when you execute it. Whatever terms you set up when you signed it are binding, both upon you and the person you designate. Most stationery and office supply stores have ready made ones where you just fill in a few blanks and you're ready to have it notarized. I've seen ones with boxes for check marks, but those are dangerous in my opinion, as when a particular check mark was placed on there is a matter for considerable legal dispute.

It is a misconception to believe that this person must always be an actual licensed attorney. In general, they need not be an actual attorney, only a competent adult. I'm sure there are circumstances when being an attorney is necessary, but it is not necessary most of the time. There may be circumstances where you may want a licensed attorney even where it is not legally necessary, but there's a major difference between being legal and being smart.

I've seen not only spouses used, but other relatives, close friends, and professionals such as accountants and attorneys. Note that the person you designate does not have to accept, and does not have to act even if they accept. The idea is to get their consent first, and make certain they know your mind in the matters you designate them for.

Extremely important: You really need to trust the person you designate to act in your best interest. If they sign something that you would not have, you are still stuck, as long as it is within the mandate of that power of attorney. Whatever contract they signed on your behalf, you have to live up to the terms. Your designate doing something you would not have is a side issue between you and the person you designated. That person with your power of attorney designate's signature on a contract can force you to live up to that contract, which is how it should be. Otherwise, nobody would accept powers of attorney, and they would be regarded as one more way to run a scam. They're not supposed to be a scam at all, it's intended to be a way for one person to do another person's business legitimately.

Caveat Emptor

Our home isn't worth what we owe. So say you were just an average person selling and buying a house, meaning you put your house up for sale, get a contract to purchase on it then go put in offer in on a new house. Then you generally get a pre-approval, then the loan from a lender for the new house prior to closing on the old house. You then go to the closing sign the papers for your old house and then afterwards sign the papers for the new house. How would the lender giving you the new loan know that you were short selling the old house when everything happens the same day? It's not going to show up on my credit for at least 30 days and by that time I will already own the new house. Get it? Is this possible?

This is not the first time such a scam has been tried.

The loan application asks you about what property you own now. Falsify it, and you're likely going to spend a few years in Club Fed. Since it's unlikely you'll make mortgage payments there, this will compound the problem (Just try this on the judge: "I couldn't pay because I was in jail for lying about my financial situation, so it's not my fault!")

Furthermore, the current mortgage is going to show up on your credit.

The condition the underwriter is going to put on the new loan approval is going to go something like "Show property has been sold and debt paid in full"

Believe me, they're going to investigate. They're going to want a copy of the purchase contract and a payoff on the loan for it. Since the debt isn't going to be paid in full, they're going to figure out that you've got a short sale going on. It's not going to happen "same day" if there's a short sale. They're going to want to verify that the other lender is not going to pursue a deficiency judgment. If you're still going to owe the other lender money, the payments are going to hit your debt to income ratio (DTI).

All that said, if you come clean about the situation starting with your loan application with the new lender, it's possible you'll still be approved - just not the same day you close on your sale. They're going to want something that says your current lender isn't going to pursue the deficiency, but it is possible. Theoretically speaking. They're also going to want to figure out what you're going to owe the Revenuers, and how you're going to pay it. Then they're going to take that into account in underwriting the new loan.

(NB: With HR 3648, the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007, this may be zero on the federal level but there may still be consequences on the state and local level. Check with your CPA or EA for more information)

But trying to hide the situation is pretty much going to be a guaranteed rejection. Furthermore, whether or not you intended fraud, if you'll look up the legal definition of fraud, what you were asking about falls well within that definition. I wouldn't be surprised to find the FBI paying you a visit. In fact, I'd be surprised if they didn't. Banking fraud having to do with amounts at risk large enough to finance real estate is a serious felony. ALWAYS tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth on a loan application. Better to be rejected based upon the truth than accepted based upon fraud.

If you wait until the short sale is consummated to apply for a new loan, there are 13 questions on page 4 of the standard form 1003, the Federal Loan Application. At a minimum, questions a, d, and f (having to do with judgments, lawsuits, and delinquencies) are going to have interesting possibilities, but there is no question that directly asks about a short sale. It does shows up on your credit report for 10 years, as debt not paid in full. Mortgage debt not paid in full, amplifying the failure in the eyes of mortgage lenders. If there's a deficiency judgment, that will show up as well, for ten years from the date of the judgment. I can't recall ever having dealt with someone in this situation; but it's definitely a factor a reasonable person might want to consider in deciding whether to grant you additional credit, right? If your worthless brother-in-law wanted to borrow $1000 despite having stiffed you on other debts in the past, you'd be within reason to consider that fact in your decision as to whether or not to loan the money. Particularly if the purpose of this loan was directly in line with the purpose of prior defaults. The situation is no different with mortgage lenders.

Caveat Emptor

I am currently living with my parents and they wish to deed of gift their house to me but they still have a remaining mortgage on it. Is it possible to do this or do they have to pay off the mortgage first? Thanks

They can gift the house to you without paying off the mortgage. However, the mortgage still has a valid lien on the property, and must be paid or they can and will foreclose.

The mortgage will still be in the names of the people who signed the paperwork (your parents) and therefore any credit benefit or dings will also belong to them. You could find yourself in the unenviable position of being unable to refinance, despite having made the payment for however long, because you're not getting credit for making those payments. Read the contract: it is possible that the loan is assumable. Even if it isn't, it's possible the lender will agree to add you to the list of those responsible (This can only help them; they're not letting your parents off unless/until you do a full refinance. Of course, adding you to the loan doesn't earn anyone a commission, so they might tell you that you need to refinance as it gets them paid, or helps them make a quota)

Quitclaiming is both legal and extremely simple, but has potentially severe tax consequences. Please check with an accountant in your area first. I'd also tell you to check with a lawyer, because each state has its own laws about the effects of how property is held. Nor will quitclaiming the property help if the purpose is to shelter assets from legal action, and if this is to enable your parents to qualify for Medicaid, all fifty states have "lookback" periods of at least thirty months, where the state will recover the value of any assets disposed of in that time frame.

If you are the party quitclaiming a property on which there is a mortgage, be advised that you are still responsible for payment of that mortgage. The lender has your signature on a contract that says, "I agree to pay..." They may or may not have other signatures, but all it means if they do is that other people will join in your misery. This happens all the time. Husband and wife divorce, one keeps the property, the other quitclaims but is still on the mortgage. Time goes by, and the ex-spouse who retained the property and the mortgage fails to make all of the payments on time. Bad consequences ensue for the "innocent" ex-spouse. I have seen this feature used maliciously by vengeful ex-spouses. I would advise requiring a spouse who retains the property to refinance solely in their own name, and if they are unable to qualify, requiring the property be sold. The other spouse is also entitled to a share of equity in many states.

If the property ends up being sold through a Short Payoff, the lender is almost certainly going to drag the "innocent" ex-spouse (whose signature is still on the dotted line) back into the situation. Basically like being an Alabama fieldhand prior to the Civil War or a male whose girlfriend decides not to have an abortion (Admittedly she puts up with nine months of pregnancy, but thereafter puts the child up for adoption and walks away - he gets hit with a lien for child support from the county for 18 years). Despite not having lived in or owned the property for years, they're still tied to that property by that piece of paper they signed. The ex-spouse wasn't the owner, so they had no ability to control or influence the sale, but they're still on the mortgage, so the lender can get their money out of them.

Finally, for as long as you remain on the mortgage, it will hit your debt to income ratio. You are obligated to make those payments, so it's a part of your credit-worthiness. Especially considered in conjunction with likely alimony and child support in the case of a divorce, you may have difficulty qualifying for another property, even ones that would have been well within your means before.

Caveat Emptor

Loans Not Funded

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I got a question about "what does it mean if my loan is not funded after right of rescission?"

It likely means your loan provider lied to you, probably from day one. Once you have signed documents, there shouldn't be anything but procedural matters left. Things that cannot be taken care of earlier. Things like final payoff coordination, the escrow officer using funds to pay homeowners insurance. Every once in a while, a good loan officer will get a subordination moved to prior to funding because it's on the way, but it is necessary to start the three day right of rescission now in order to fund on time under the lock.

Every once in a while, it'll be because of something happening to you in the meantime. Lenders who are risking hundreds of thousands of dollars don't just sit there and presume nothing has changed since the first time they checked it out. They are going to check again, right before they put the money to the loan, to make certain that nothing the loan was based upon has changed. So sometimes while they are doing a final Verification of Employment (making certain you still work there), the answer comes back that the borrower doesn't. The final credit check comes back with a score that no longer qualifies under that program. These are not the loan officer's fault, except inasmuch as they didn't warn you not to do whatever it was. Whether you quit your job or were fired, the result is no loan. So I always tell folks not to change anything about their life or credit without checking with me first. Neither I nor they can really do anything about layoffs, of course, but the point is not to voluntarily do anything that messes up your loan.

The vast majority of the time, however, what's going on is that the loan officer never had the loan. There's some condition holding it back that you, the borrower, can't meet. They have a choice between hoping to get around it or going out and actually finding a loan that you can qualify for and telling you about that instead. I shouldn't have to draw you a picture as to which choice they will likely make. Many times, they were teasing you with a loan that you had no hope of qualifying for as an incentive to get you to sign up. This is a standard "trick". They get you wanting that loan, which sure sounds good, and you apply. Unfortunately, that loan was never real, or never something you had a chance of qualifying for, but now they've got you signed up. Now you've done their paperwork, and you're mentally committed to their loan.

Now if it's an honest mistake, they are not going to have you sign documents. They're going to come back and tell you as soon as there is a condition they can't meet on loan qualification. But the question was about when you have signed documents and the loan doesn't fund. They can keep stringing you along, hoping it will happen, or they can come clean and tell you they can't do the loan. In the first instance, they might still get paid. In the second, they likely won't, because if you're smart you'll go elsewhere. Needless to say, this can waste a lot of time getting "one more document" from you or jumping through one more hoop. If the loan doesn't fund at the end of the rescission period and you are not certain as to why, you've probably been had. This is why I always tell people to ask for a copy of all outstanding conditions on the loan commitment before you sign final loan documents. Ask them to explain them, too. You see, once you sign loan documents and the rescission period expires, you're stuck with that loan provider. You can't go elsewhere unless and until they give up. Even if you have a back-up loan waiting to go, they can't do anything until the other loan funds or gives up, which could be weeks. Not a bad situation for an unethical loan provider to be in. In the meantime, the seller cancels your purchase and you're out the deposit. Or the rates go up and you're not getting a refinance on anything like the terms you might have really qualified for at the start of the process.

Caveat Emptor

"challenging underwriters mistakes in housing loan paperwork" was a search that I got.

You can't challenge them. Butting heads with an underwriter is stupid and counterproductive. There's only one person who gets a vote, and it's not you, whether you are an applicant, processor, or loan officer. The underwriter may not be the original application of the saying "a majority of one," but it certainly fits the situation.

Now keep in mind that as an applicant, you will never communicate directly with your underwriter. It is an anti-fraud measure constant throughout the industry. If someone tells you that you are talking to your loan's underwriter, either they are lying or the loan has just been rejected on procedural grounds.

If a loan officer believes that the underwriter has made a mistake in the underwriting of the loan, it is far more constructive to find out what it was - on what grounds the client was rejected. Actually, loans usually are not flatly rejected, they simply come back with conditions the client cannot meet. A loan that actually gets rejected usually has further adverse consequences for the borrower's credit, and is usually pretty good evidence that the loan officer was promising something they couldn't deliver.

Now it happens that underwriters, like loan officers, mis-compute things, miss things, and misconstrue things. This is one of the hardest lessons for a loan officer to learn: NEVER tell the underwriter anything that they do not absolutely have to know in order to approve the loan. The client has a rich uncle that gives them $10,000 every year? The client makes millions in the stock market as well as their salary? The client simply has millions in assets and they could buy the property for cash if they wanted? I wouldn't breathe a word of any of this to the underwriter. Not a peep, if I had my druthers. The underwriter will start asking all kinds of questions, asking for all kinds of documentation, both on the existing assets or income and on the likelihood of it continuing. If you're familiar with how the stock market works, you might have an appreciation for how hard it can be to prove that you're going to have income from it in the future. That underwriter isn't interested in trends or suppositions or even the fact that it's happened the last twenty years in a row. They want proof it's going to happen in the coming years. When accountants won't write a testimonial (trust me, they won't), you're probably out of luck.

Now sometimes the underwriter comes back with conditions that are beyond the bounds of reason. Dealing with this is part of my job, but it's more akin to a negotiation than a confrontation. I've got to get them to tell me what has them concerned, and see if there isn't some other way to reassure them. Remember, if the loan goes sour, both the underwriter and I are going to hear about it. It may cost them their job, and I may have to come up with thousands of dollars to pay the lender. Not to mention that the client isn't exactly happy. The underwriting process, properly used, is as much for the protection of the client as the lender.

So what I've got to do is find out what concern caused the underwriter to place this condition on the loan, and then a more reasonable alternative may suggest itself. If you ask in the right way, conditions can be changed if the request is reasonable. But you've got to know what you're doing. If the alternative you suggest does not adequately address the underwriter's concerns, they are within not only their rights, but also in full compliance with regulations where you are probably not, to refuse to make the change. Sometimes the underwriter and the loan officer disagree as to the computation of income, for example. By definition, the underwriter is right - unless I can persuade them that my way is better. Just human nature, you can't do that by challenging them, you have to persuade.

Now it is possible to run into an intransigent underwriter. That's one reason why brokers have the advantage over direct lenders, who are stuck with the same group of underwriters all the time. I can pull the loan and resubmit it elsewhere. Given that particular lender isn't going to approve the loan anyway, they won't fight too hard, although on several occasions I have had the lender come back and issue an exception on their own when I do that, but the ability and willingness to actually take it elsewhere is essential to this. And it is sometimes possible to go over a given underwriter's head and get an exception from the supervisor, but it tends to poison the well when you attempt this, whether it is successful or not. When you're asking for special consideration for your clients, they tend to look much harder at all of your clients. I've seen a couple loan officers talk themselves into one approval through an exception with the supervisor, only to have their other loans that were going through smoothly kicked back out for further underwriting. So you have one happy client, and three or four that otherwise would have been happy and who now are not. Sounds great if you're that one client, but how would you like to be one of those three or four others? Not a good situation for anyone to be in. Taking the approach of collaboration works better.

Caveat Emptor


My aunt is going to move to a new condo and wants to sell her old one. I would like to buy her old condo as an investment and rent it out (as I am already a home-owner). This whole investment/rental buying is all new to me.

She has lived there about 5 years and the value has increased more than double. Obviously I would love to be able to keep her tax base. I am thinking about getting an interest only loan to help me get into this. Can I get a loan for 100% of value? My aunt will need the entire amount to purchase her new place. What suggestions do you have to make the loan process easier and pay the least amount in fees?

It is worth between 360,000 to 390,000 (we haven't yet got an appraisal, this is from comps in area). My wife and I currently have a house in (City) with a value of 650,000 and a mortgage of 400,000. We both work and have some extra income, maybe 400 a month that we could supplement against a renter. I think we could qualify for the loan, but then we would have to refinance our house to cover a down payment and closing costs. We don't have any savings to pull from. My wife hopes to retire in 2 years and I will in about 8 years.


Investment property is a different item from a personal residence, in several particulars. First off, even if it's residential, the loan is a riskier one to the lender. A loan on investment property is going to carry a surcharge of 1.5 to 2 discount points (one discount point is one percent of the final loan amount), over and above any other charges for the rate you choose. Furthermore, despite a lot of research, I don't know a single lender that will do a loan on investment property for more than 95 percent of the value, and most of them will only go 90 percent. The ones who will go 95 percent typically charge higher rates, and are to be avoided if you can. So you need a down payment of at least five percent and preferably ten.

The good news is that whereas you do not have savings to pay it, you do have a considerable amount of home equity. Depending upon your exact situation, either a "cash out" refinance or just taking out a HELOC (Home Equity Line Of Credit) might be in your best interest. It depends upon your current mortgage and your credit, and I cannot make a recommendation one way or another without looking at the market you're in for current comparables, running your credit, and seeing what can be done. If you've got good credit and income, and have had the good credit and income for some time, it's more likely to be in your best interest to simply take out the HELOC. I have some without prepayment penalties and that are zero cost. If your credit or income has improved of late, it may be in your best interest to refinance, or if you've got an ARM that's about to adjust anyway. Assuming you're "A" paper, you may now be a conforming loan where you would not have been when you took it out, although taking the cash out could cause you to exceed, once again, the conforming limit.

Cash flow is also an issue with investment properties. If you don't have a tenant, you get zero credit for the rent at initial purchase from A papeer. If you do have a potential tenant, with a signed lease for at least one year, the lender will give you a credit of seventy-five percent of the proposed rent towards your cost of owning the home (principal, interest, taxes and insurance). Some subprime lenders will credit you with ninety percent, but their rates are typically higher in compensation. With the vacancy rate in urban California being about four percent, even ninety percent is a bit low, but the standards are what they are. I know many people who are making money hand over fist on rentals where the bank thinks they are paupers.

Now there is no such thing as an easy documentation investment property. Indeed, for any loan, for all real property you have to show the full breakdown for each property you own. You can state your overall income in most cases (and indeed, most folks with investment property have to do stated income due to the cash flow computations being so restrictive.)

In urban California, however, prices have gotten so high that I do not recall the last time I saw a single family residence being purchased for rental purposes that "penciled out" with a positive cash flow. As I said in my article Cold Hard Numbers, this was one of the things that convinced me California real estate was overvalued.



Now, as long as you have the cash flow to last until rents catch up, this is fine. But you need to be very certain that you do have that cash flow. If you're buying for $360,000, this is a first loan at about 6.75 percent right now of $288,000, which gives a payment of $1868. Additionally, there's going to be Homeowner's Association dues of probably about $200, and taxes (assuming no Mello Roos) are about $375 per month, or about $200 if you can keep your aunt's tax basis. That sums to $2443 or $2268 if you can keep her tax basis. Now ask yourself how much similar units are renting for? If it's less than $2050 (or $1875 if you can keep the tax basis), your $400 per month isn't going to make up the difference. You might consider a negative amortization loan in this circumstance, but be advised that you're eating up your investment every month, the real interest rate is actually higher than the 6.75 percent, and prices may go down and not recover for several years, leaving you holding the bag for a big loss. It's a risk some folks are willing to take, others are not. I'm willing to do them for people in this situation, but only after I explain all the pitfalls (Option ARM and Pick a Pay - Negative Amortization Loansand Negative Amortization Loans - More Unfortunate Details cover most of them). Usually people who have been informed of the pitfalls decide that these loans are not for them, which is one of the reasons why I question whether the risks have been adequately explained to the forty percent of all local purchases being financed by these (or were when the article was originally written).

Indeed, given the fact that you're going to have to make payments on the Home Equity Line of Credit as well, it's difficult to see how your $400 per month of extra cash flow is going to stretch to cover. If your credit is decent, I can get you into the property, but that's not exactly doing you a favor if you find it impossible to make the payments.

Caveat Emptor

Not interested? Most people aren't when it's talking about how they got taken advantage of in the past. First off, it's in the past so it is over and done with, and there's no use dwelling on it, right? Second, there's the ego thing. Nobody who's been bragging about what a great deal they got likes to find out they've been had. Taken for a ride. Conned. Big time.

Anyone reading this who isn't interested in improving what happens next time can tune out now, because that's what the rest of this article is about: educating you in how to shop for a loan and what the tricks are, and if you've never had a real estate loan but want one someday, chances are you'll benefit from reading it to. If you're the sort of person who isn't interested in improving your future loan, chances are you're not a regular reader because helping folks understand their financial options for next time is the most consistent thing I do here.

On a very regular basis people tell me how they got taken advantage of by a loan provider. Actually, a lot of them think they're bragging about what a great deal they think they got, when in their situation, I wouldn't take that loan if the bank paid me. High points charges that stick around in the balance essentially forever. Points on hybrid ARM loans (3/1, 5/1 and 2/28 are the most common). Prepayment penalties, especially needless prepayment penalties, or prepayment penalties that last longer than the period of fixed interest rate. Fixed rate loans where hybrid ARMS are more appropriate. Long terms where a shorter term would be more in your best interest. Most loan officers are looking for an easy sale, and no loan officer ever complains that a sale was too easy to make. Failing an easy sale, they'll look for any sale. If they don't get you signed up for any loan, they don't make any money. They are not responsible for your best interest, they are responsible for making money and not stepping over legal limits which are very different (in the sense of being less restrictive to loan officers) than most members of the public believe. If ever a loan officer tells you that in your circumstances, they wouldn't refinance, make sure you get their contact information and put it someplace you will be able to find it when you go looking for your next loan.

First off, if your credit score is above about 660 and you have a prepayment penalty, chances are excellent that you were taken for a ride. People with credit scores above 660 should usually be A paper, not subprime. A paper does not need a prepayment penalty except when the loan officer wants to get paid more. A 2 year prepayment penalty is worth a good chunk of change on the secondary bond market - usually about 4% of the loan amount. This means that if you have the $270,000 loan I use as the default here, they made almost $10,000 over and above the normal price spread when they sold your loan. And even when they retain servicing rights, lenders sell loans over 95 percent of the time. At the very least, you should get some kind of benefit for accepting a prepayment penalty A paper. A current "maximum conforming" loan of $417,000 would be worth almost $17,000 more to the lender with a prepayment penalty than without. This, all by itself, is often a reason they stick folks in subprime situations. If you think you're A paper, make them show you the turn-down from the automated loan underwriting program before you even consider a subprime loan.

If your credit score is below 620, you're almost certainly stuck with a loan where you have a prepayment penalty by default. Buying it off is usually a good idea, but buying them off isn't free. Between 620 and 659, there's some wiggle room as to whether you will get an A paper loan.

But most people never undertake the three most important steps they can to get a better loan. They don't shop multiple lenders. They don't ask for a guaranteed quote. And they certainly don't sign up for a back up loan.

I've been looking for a new place to hang my license, and the one thing (other than looking for loan officers who don't understand the way the business works) that most of the firms have in common is that they don't want to compete on price. They know they may have to the first time, but they want the client that just automatically comes back to them that they can soak for two or three points on every loan, in addition to whatever they earn for the prepayment penalty. I understand this yearning very well; it's a normal human desire to want to make more for the same amount of work, and also to lock up the customer for the future. If all you think about is how easy the loan is to get, you are these firms' favorite type of client. Guess what? You may not see their extra $10,000 or $15,000 as a separate charge on any of your paperwork, but it is there and you are paying it, and someone who knows what they are looking for can find it. Most folks would never dream of paying $50 for the same toaster that everyone else is buying for $13.99 at Target, but the way loans are priced is confusing at first sight, and people don't want to sort it out. It's pretty easy, actually. Figure out what kind of loan you want and qualify for, then price the rate/cost trade-offs of that loan type amongst the various loan providers. Figure break-evens on the extra cost of the lower rate. One rule I have never encountered an exception to is that if a loan provider pushes a low payment to sell a loan, they are a crook. If they sell by interest rate, they may be worth talking to, providing the loan type is what you're looking for. If they sell by the Tradeoff between rate and cost, they're definitely worth talking to. And if someone suggests a different type, hear them out but make certain they tell you all of the details. There is always a reason why one loan is significantly cheaper than another loan

Another very common tactic used to induce your business is advertising. Remember the loan ads that went "Lost another one to (mega corporation which shall remain nameless)"? That particular mega corporation is not competitive rate-wise or underwriting wise with others. Joe ShadyBroker who earns six points on every loan can often deliver better rates than they can. What they were trying to via their advertising is create the illusion of low prices by telling you they have low prices. Then, when you call and they quote the superficially low payment due to a rate where you have to pay three points to get it, they've got the average potential client suckered. Because their payment on a 2/28 loan with a 3 year prepayment penalty where you have to pay three points to get the rate is lower than mine on a thirty year fixed with zero points, people will sign up. Why? Because it looks more attractive to them at first glance. Get the calculator and the checklist of questions and ask the questions and do the math. Nobody can take advantage of you without your consent, but those who allow themselves to be intimidated by numbers are giving their consent. Actually, with most places, it's like begging, "Oh, please, I want to pay thousands of dollars more to get a higher interest rate!"

If someone doesn't ask questions like "how long are you planning to keep it?" or "how long do you usually keep real estate loans?", especially if they just launch right in to a spiel based upon a low payment, they are a cash-sucking Vampire. They may be an intelligent vampire doing what they are doing in full cognizance of what it does to you, or they may be an innocent vampire who doesn't really understand the business and who is being controlled by a green-blooded master cash-sucking vampire, but in either case you don't want to do business with them. Yes, these are sales questions. Yes, they get you talking to a salesperson, who then has a possible opening to talk you into something that may not be in your best interest. If they don't ask the questions, I guarantee that they're trying to push you into something that isn't in your best interest. Which is better: Not talking to a salesperson and being certain of being messed with, or talking to a salesperson and possibly being messed with? Note that there is no option that says "Don't talk to a salesperson and not get messed with." If their people don't know enough to help you from their own knowledge, those salesfolk were probably intentionally hired because they didn't know any better. It is not a crime to make money. They are looking to make money, I am looking to make money, everybody in every line of business is looking to make money, including your employer - that's how they pay you. If I were independently wealthy and never needed or wanted to make money again, I certainly wouldn't be doing real estate loans, and neither would anyone else. You can take the attitude that you're going to pay a reasonable amount, and while you can take steps to hold that amount down and make certain it doesn't get outrageous, you know you're going to pay what it costs, or you can take the attitude that a cheaper quote means you'll actually get that rate at that cost when the overwhelming probability is that they're lying to get you to sign up. You need to look gift horses in the mouth. If someone's quoted fees are lower or higher than everyone else's, there is a reason. If they're too low, it's probably because they're pretending that a large percentage of what you are going to pay doesn't exist, because that gets people to sign up. Ask them if they will guarantee their total fees and the rate in writing. If the answer is no, they are lying. Actually, most of the liars won't tell you "no" in response to that question. They'll tell you some line about how they're a major corporation or how they honor their commitments or any of several other lines that mean absolutely nothing. The MLDS and Good Faith Estimate are not commitments. Major corporations pull the same games as everyone else. In fact, they usually get away with playing even worse ones than Joe ShadyBroker because of their "name recognition".

So shop around. Ask every single prospective loan provider every single question in this article. Pull out the calculator to see if it's believable, to see if the numbers work. Ask them if they'll guarantee the quote, subject to underwriting. And then go out and apply for a back-up loan as well, because even if you've got a guarantee, it's difficult to enforce, and impossible within the time frames most folks need the loan to be done.

The typical savings of being a savvy consumer is literally thousands of dollars every time you get a real estate loan. You may not see the savings directly on the HUD-1 at closing, but they will be present nonetheless. If you don't accept a prepayment penalty, that's thousands of dollars you've saved yourself down the line when you've been transferred and need to sell. If you get a rate that's a quarter of a percent lower on a $270,000 loan, that's $675 interest you are saving per year. That's a couple of car payments; perhaps enough to let you buy for cash next time you need a car. If you invest the difference over the potential lifetime of your mortgage, a difference of over $127,000! If you save yourself the two extra points of origination that they were going to charge you, that's over $5500 that either is in your pocket, and that you can invest or spend on other things, or $5500 that isn't in your mortgage balance, where you're going to pay hundreds of dollars in interest on it per year ($357.50 per year at 6.5% interest), in addition to owing the base sum.

My point is this, folks. If I were a financial advisor trying to score an extra quarter percent commission off of you, most of you would be upset. Many people are so upset by 0.25% 12b1 fees in mutual funds that they won't pay the advisor who would save them a lot more money than the 0.25% per year simply by simply reminding them of sound investment principles. If I were a car salesperson trying to pad the cost of the car you were interested in by $5500, a large percentage of the population would most likely slug me. But because real estate transactions are complex and people don't want to take the time to understand them, they unwittingly walk into situations like this, and many people do so repeatedly throughout their lives, making the same mistakes every two years. The dollar amounts are large enough that even small differences are thousands of dollars. If you're not going to guard your pocketbook, most loan providers will pick it.

Now the workman is worthy of his or her hire. The person who gets you the loan is entitled to be paid. Judge the loans on the bottom line to you; how much it costs and what you will get. The proof that they got you a better deal was that they delivered a better loan, not that they made less money. And if the person who does your loan can make an extra half-point while actually delivering you a loan that is the same rate on the same loan at less cost than the other provider, haven't they earned that money? You came out ahead because of their work - had you gone with any other loan, you would have paid more or had a higher rate. They made more. Definition of win-win. There is a loser here, by the way, but you'll never know who it was. It is the lender that the broker you didn't sign up with would have put you with. But by finding you a program you fit better, the loan officer you did sign up with got you a better deal and made more money. It happens every day, if you make the effort to look for it, and go about it in the right fashion.

Caveat Emptor

I got a question about legal late payments in California.

Unfortunately, there really is no such thing as a legal late payment. You borrowed the money, signed a contract, and it accrues interest according to that contract. You owe this money, and it only gets worse if you don't pay it. There is some wiggle room so you don't get unduly hit for a day or two late, or if the right to receive payments is sold, but that's about it.

The law gives you some wiggle room in the timing of the payments. First off, the laws of California and most other states give you fifteen days after the due date to pay the mortgage before a penalty can be assessed. I know of a lot of people who make consistent use of this. If it's due on the first, it's supposed to be there on the first, but many people take advantage of the fact that there is no penalty as long as it's paid within fifteen days of due date (i.e. before the sixteenth), and consistently mail their payment on the tenth or twelfth.

Now if you miss it by even one day, the penalty is up to four percent of the amount due here in California. As you might guess, most lenders charge the maximum penalty. When you compute it out, four percent times 360 divide by 15 is ninety-six percent annualized. I had my check get lost in the mail once and the lender waived the penalty when they called me on the eighteenth because I always paid on the first or before, but they didn't have to do that. I got the distinct impression that if I were the kind of person who pays on the twelfth or fourteenth every month, they would not have waived the penalty.

Now, there is also some wiggle room on when the new lender receives it if your contract is transferred between lenders. Because once upon a time some unscrupulous lenders would sell notes back and forth between their own subsidiaries because it made them more likely to get late fees, or even able to foreclose on appreciated property when there were relatively few protections for borrowers in law. Mind you, you still have to send it on time, but if it gets hung up in forwarding between lenders, that's not your issue. Within sixty days, the old lender must forward the payment promptly, and it counts as received when the old or the new lender receives it, whichever is first. It's still better to send to the new lender at the new address if you have it or know it.

In short, although there are some small period where payment is allowed to be delayed due to one factor or another, it is never to your advantage to do so. Make your payments on time.

Caveat Emptor

One topic I haven't covered yet here is homesteading. This has nothing to do with the Homestead Act of 1862 that encouraged settling the western United States.

A declaration of Homestead basically protects your equity. In many cases, you may not even have to file a declaration to receive the benefits, but whether this is so is complex. If you file, you remove the ambiguity.

A homestead declaration may only be filed upon a primary residence, and only if you own it. Rental property, second homes, and property held for business purposes is not eligible. Law between the states varies, as does the exemption amount

How it works is pretty consistent. First off, it protects no equity arising from dates prior to declaration. If you are in one of those situations where you have to explicitly declare homestead instead of it happening de facto, you have to actually declare it before the incident happens. You get in a traffic accident that's your fault, and go out and declare homestead the next day, it won't help you protect your equity against that particular lawsuit.

Note that it protects your equity, not your asset value. If the home is worth $500,000 (as is often the case in San Diego) but you owe $400,000, you have $100,000 of equity. How much it protects is dependent upon your state law and exact situation. Default protection in California is $50,000, but it can be up to $150,000 if you or your spouse are 55 or older, disabled, or have income less than $15,000 per year.

It can also prevent sale of the property in some, although not all situations. In California, the judgment creditor usually has to get a court order, after they have won the judgment, in order to sell the property. I'm not a lawyer, so I'm not going to presume to advise anyone on what those circumstances are.

Now, there is some question in some minds as to whether a homestead declaration inhibits enforcements of Deed of Trust, so many lenders will require an abandonment of homestead prior to funding their loan. You can always re-declare as soon as the loan funds, anyway. I know that some folks have fought this issue in court, costing the lenders money to pay their lawyers, so it's hard to blame the lenders for requiring it. You can refuse to do this, but they can also refuse to give you the loan. It's their money, and they are the arbiters of how they lend it out.

Caveat Emptor

Read The Full Note

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Just got a search "how can I tell if my prepayment penalty applies to selling my home"

Read The Full Note. You need to do this before you sign it. I know that many people are just thinking "Sign this and I get the house!" or "Sign this and I get the money!" but a lot of loan providers - often the very biggest - scam their customers by talking about one loan with very favorable characteristics, and when it comes time to sign they actually deliver a completely different loan with a prepayment penalty, burdensome and unfavorable arbitration requirements (I've seen stuff that amounted to "the bank chooses the arbitrator"), and any number of other unfavorable terms, not to mention having a higher rate and three times the cost, and being fixed for two years as opposed to the thirty they told you about.

Any loan officer can make up all sorts of paperwork along the way to lull you into a sense of security. The only paperwork that means anything are the papers you actually sign at closing with a notary present. The Trust Deed, the HUD-1 form, and the Note. Concentrate on these three items. The HUD-1 contains the only accounting of the money that is required to be correct (things like do you need to come up with more money than you were told?). And the Note contains all the other information on the loan that your provider might actually deliver. Notice that wording - I said might deliver. Just because you sign the Note doesn't necessarily mean you get any loan, let alone the one that Note is talking about, but these are the terms you're agreeing to now, and most Notes do actually fund. They can't change the terms without getting you to sign a different Note. But once you sign and the Right of Rescission (if applicable) expires, you are stuck. Get that other loan - the one your loan provider has been talking about up to now - out of your head. This is the moment of truth as to what they actually intend to deliver. The majority of the time, the loan they actually deliver is significantly different from the loan they were talking about before now, and this document is where the truth lies. Amount of the loan (does that match what you were told?). Length of the loan. Period of fixed interest. What the fixed rate is, and how the rate will be computed after the rate starts adjusting. The Payments: how closely do they match what you were told? Payments are a lot less important than the interest you are being charged, but if the payments are $20 more than you were told (or if the interest rate is different), you were basically lied to. If the real loan was available and the principal correctly calculated, the payment should be within $1. $20 off gives the loan provider literally thousands of dollars to soak you for extra fees in, even if the rate is correct. A competent loan officer knows what loans are really available and whether you are likely to qualify, and can calculate pretty closely how much money it takes to get the loan done. From this flows the payment. Payment is a lot less important than most people think, but you do need to be able to make it, every month. Furthermore, that's how most people shop for loans and how unethical loan officers sell bad loans. Shopping by payment is a good way to end up with a bad loan. Many loan officers will tell you about this nice low payment, and conveniently neglect to mention the fact that if you make this low payment, you'll owe the bank $1200 more at the end of the month than at the beginning of the month.

So take the time to read the entire Note before you sign. There are all sorts of things lenders slip in. I worked for a very short period at a place that trained its people in how to distract you from the numbers on this and the HUD-1 and the Trust Deed. This is a legally binding contract you are entering into, you are agreeing to everything it says, and there aren't a whole lot of methods of getting out of it if you don't like what it says later. Once the loan funds, you are stuck with the terms, the costs, and everything else. The only way out, in general, is to refinance, which means paying for another set of loan costs and quite likely the prepayment penalty on this loan. Multiple thousands of dollars. So don't allow yourself to be distracted. Read the Full Note.

Caveat Emptor

I've written articles on when you can't make your mortgage payment and how to react if you see foreclosure coming in time to do something about it, and even on Short Payoffs, but all of those are owner (seller) oriented. This is intended as a basic buyer's guide to getting a bargain from people who bit off more than they could chew, with emphasis on the current local market but applicability anywhere.

There are essentially four phases in the foreclosure process. The first is pre-default. They've made late payments or none at all, and there's no way they can keep the payments up, but they won't do the intelligent thing, which is sell for what they can get. Many people who own properties headed for default are deep in Denial. Yes, this is often because something bad happened to them for reasons beyond their control. I'd be happier if those sorts of things didn't happen, but the amount of rescuing that's going to get done is minimal. There are very few White Knights running around, and the ones who claim to be White Knights are usually blackguards. Unless the seller knows of some factor that is going to change, this is the smart time to deal with the problem. Before the Notice of Default is recorded, nobody really knows but the owner and the bank. Once the Notice of Default hits, all the sharks come out because everyone knows the owner is in Dire Circumstances. Let's face it: most folks will make the payments on their home even if they let every other bill slide. When someone can't make their mortgage payment, and it's public information as a Notice of Default is, everybody and their pet rock knows that don't have any choice but to sell. They'll flood you with offers, but they won't be good offers.

Now if you're looking to buy at this stage, the thing to do is examine the Multiple Listing Service. "Motivated seller" and similar phrases are often code for "These people can't make their payments!", particularly in the current market with prices declining somewhat and many people who stretched beyond their means. It would be great to be able to get a list of properties that are sixty days or more delinquent, as this would include the folks in denial, but it just isn't going to happen. The only folks who know are the banks and the credit reporting agencies, and they are prohibited by privacy laws from disclosure. So at this point all you have to deal with are the people who are not in denial. Now when the market is rapidly appreciating, this is a good place to find a bargain, because once the Notice of Default hits, the sharks swarm, so if you can find these people before that, you're in a strong bargaining position if you correctly suspect they can't make their payments. The taxes being delinquent is often a good indicator of this, but there is no way to know for sure unless the people or their agent tell you, and the agent who tells you has just violated fiduciary duty. This can mean prospective buyers overplay their hands in negotiations, which is fine if you intend to move on if you can't get a "Manhattan for $24" type deal, but if it's a property you want and can make money on, overplaying your hand can poison the atmosphere. There aren't many "Manhattan for $24" type deals out there, because if you wait that long, someone else already has taken it. There are a lot more good opportunities for someone willing to pay a reasonable price and hold the property a while or make improvements. Deals so good that they instantly make oodles of money, someone will usually come along and offer the poor schmoe on the other end a better deal, and if the poor schmoe has a decent agent who's looking out for their interests, they can switch to the other offer. Buyers and escrow companies don't like it, but it can be done. It's extra work for the listing agent, so they may not want to, and they may not have done the best set-up, but it can usually be done anyway.

The reason it's smart for sellers to sell at this time is that this is when they are going to get the best deal. The mere act of entering Default is likely to cost thousands of dollars. Furthermore, this is the phase with the most opportunity to find a property at a better than usual price for buyers, because most of these don't get to actual default. Someone will come along and make an offer, and a listing agent who gets an offer on one of these is likely to advocate taking the first reasonable offer, reasonable being defined as "anything like the asking price".

The second stage of the foreclosure process is default. The Notice of Default has been filed, and because it is a matter of public record, the sharks instantly react to the blood in the water. The seller is going to get dozens to hundreds or even thousands of solicitations. Also, once the property is in default, the bank can require the owner bring the Note entirely current in order to get out of default. Whether or not the property is listed, they're going to have agents offering to sell it for them, individual buyers who want those Manhattan for $24 deals, and lawyers offering to "protect" them by declaring bankruptcy. By the way, I've never heard of anyone who came out better in the end by declaring bankruptcy, so you probably don't want to do it if you're in this position. I know it's your home, and you're likely extremely emotionally attached to it, but declaring bankruptcy doesn't mean you don't owe the money when it comes to a Trust Deed. Every single one of these folks, lawyer, agent, or prospective buyer, knows that you're in default. Some owners are still in denial at this point, but all denial means at this point is that such an owner is not likely to take the best offer they'll get. It's at this phase that most "subject to" deals happen, usually with highly appreciated properties with significant equity over and above the trust deed. If the owners owe anything approaching the value of the property, that's a silly situation to do a "subject to" purchase for buyers, and most of the prospective buyers (those with decent advisors or agents or experience) won't do it if the equity is less than a certain amount or proportion of the value.

The third phase of a foreclosure is the auction. This is typically a very short period. Five days before the auction date itself, the owner loses the legal right to redeem the property, although the bank will usually let them until the last possible instant. There is also a legal requirement to vacate the property before the auction. "Subject to" deals can still go through as long as the bank will accept redemption. Now the auction itself requires cash or an acceptable equivalent. You don't go to the auction and then get a loan later. At the very least you have to have the loan prearranged and a check for the proceeds in hand. This can mean that the rate is significantly higher, and it can be difficult to refinance within the first year.

The fourth phase is after the auction. In California, if the property does not get a bid for at least ninety percent of appraised value, it does not sell and becomes owned by the bank. The bank doesn't want it; they're not in the real estate business and in fact, they are legally required to dispose of it within a certain time. In the current market, this can be the best place to acquire a property. The bank knows they're taking a loss, and the longer it goes, the bigger the loss. Mind you, because the bank usually takes a loss, few properties go to this stage. The lenders will usually do anything reasonable in order to avoid auction, but once it goes to auction, they want to get rid of it. They usually require a substantial deposit, but the purchase price can be the best of all.

One thing to be wary of in foreclosures is they are often in less the ideal condition, to say the least. These people know they are losing the house, and often that they are going to come away with nothing in the best realistic case. They have no incentive to take care of the property, and many actively work to mess it up. This is cause for care in purchasing them, and inspections, because not all of the damage may be obvious. Furthermore, many of them may have been unable to afford proper maintenance for some time before they lost the property. Purchasing a foreclosure can mean you will need a large reservoir of cash in order to fix up the property to habitable condition.

Caveat Emptor


I was thinking we were ready for a recovery here in San Diego, but if these go through unamended, that will not be the case. Just in time to be the Grinch that Stole Christmas, the Federal Reserve has decided to perform a gigantic belly-flop into a situation that was already being dealt with, and make it worse.

From the AP story:

Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., chairman of the Senate Banking Committee and contender for his party's presidential nomination, called the Fed proposal a "significant step backwards." Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said it shows that the Fed is "not a strong advocate for consumers, and two, there is no Santa Claus. People who are surprised by the one are presumably surprised by the other."

And these are the Democrats, who never met a government regulation they didn't like.

Alright, enough hyping it up and let's get to what's available, which isn't much yet.

Here's the Press Release, and from the Federal Reserve website, here is the summarized version (actual text not available either in Federal Register or on Federal Reserve website yet)

The proposal would establish a new category of "higher-priced mortgages" that should include virtually all subprime loans.1 The proposal would, for these loans:

* Prohibit a lender from engaging in a pattern or practice of lending without considering borrowers' ability to repay the loans from sources other than the home's value.

* Prohibit a lender from making a loan by relying on income or assets that it does not verify.

* Restrict prepayment penalties only to loans that meet certain conditions, including the condition that the penalty expire at least sixty days before any possible payment increase.

* Require that the lender establish an escrow account for the payment of property taxes and homeowners' insurance. The lender may only offer the borrower the opportunity to opt out of the escrow account after one year.

The proposal would, for these and most other mortgages:

* Prohibit lenders from paying mortgage brokers "yield spread premiums" that exceed the amount the consumer had agreed in advance the broker would receive. A yield spread premium is the fee paid by a lender to a broker for higher-rate loans.

* Prohibit certain servicing practices, such as failing to credit a payment to a consumer's account when the servicer receives it, failing to provide a payoff statement within a reasonable period of time, and "pyramiding" late fees.

* Prohibit a creditor or broker from coercing or encouraging an appraiser to misrepresent the value of a home.

* Prohibit seven misleading or deceptive advertising practices for closed-end loans; for example, using the term "fixed" to describe a rate that is not truly fixed. It would also require that all applicable rates or payments be disclosed in advertisements with equal prominence as advertised introductory or "teaser" rates.

* Require truth-in-lending disclosures to borrowers early enough to use while shopping for a mortgage. Lenders could not charge fees until after the consumer receives the disclosures, except a fee to obtain a credit report.

Let's take these bullet point by bullet point, and consider their effects upon consumers and the marketplace. Actually, let's take the first two together:

Prohibit a lender from engaging in a pattern or practice of lending without considering borrowers' ability to repay the loans from sources other than the home's value.

Prohibit a lender from making a loan by relying on income or assets that it does not verify.

Goodbye, not only Stated Income loans, but NINA loans (aka "no ratio") as well.

I'm not going to pretend stated income hasn't been abused, seeing as how I've been one of the loudest voices condemning it for the past several years. Both Stated Income and NINA nonetheless have their uses, and do help significant and increasing segments of the population. Indeed, they are necessary for increasing segments of the population. Here's why: When documenting income, there are only three acceptable ways to do it. A paper is limited to income reported on the Adjusted Gross Income line of form 1040 (or the equivalent line of forms 1040A and 1040EZ), or for certain salaried employees, W-2 forms. To this, subprime adds the ability to document income via bank statements, but they don't give credit for 100% of income, and it's only net income that finds its way onto bank statements. This makes bank statements a bad way to try and qualify for a loan, because there are a lot of situations and loans where a consumer could qualify by real income, they cannot qualify based upon bank statements. Qualification by bank statements is also subject to a lot of abuse and manipulation, so I don't like to do it as it can leave me vulnerable to a scam artist.

But if you make commission or are in construction or are a contract employee or aren't an employee at all (i.e. self-employed), all of which are large and growing fractions of the population, the only acceptable way to document income is with a 1040. But if you look at form 1040, there's a whole lot of stuff that gets deducted from income prior to this determination, not to mention a lot of other expenses are deducted on Schedule C (among others) and never show up on the main 1040 at all. Upshot: People who have to qualify via form 1040 are penalized in their ability to qualify for loans. It is very common for self-employed people to be making the money to afford the loan, but to be unable to document it. This rule would prevent those people from obtaining that loan. I have seen circumstances where the secretary could document more income than the owner of the business - and it wasn't that he was hurting or that it was a new business - it was a going concern and he was donating more than the secretary's base salary to charity every year.

Similarly, the allowance for income from investments in entirely nonsense: three percent per year. For crying out loud, savings bonds pay more than that. If I have a million dollars in investments, my income had darned well better be above $30,000. What's going on is that this is a safe harbor allowance because the investment markets are unpredictable, but it's not a realistic estimate.

Finally: What about the people who got into their current homes and current loans through stated income? How in the nine billion names of god are they supposed to refinance out of their current nightmares if nobody can do stated income or NINA loans for them? This starts the tidal wave of foreclosures we just averted all over again. I realize that it's theoretically for sub-prime loans only, but expect this proposal to have a major negative impact on every local market, if enacted.

Next up:

Restrict prepayment penalties only to loans that meet certain conditions, including the condition that the penalty expire at least sixty days before any possible payment increase.

I can get behind this. In fact, I've been begging for a mostly stronger version of this for years - that no prepayment penalty can last longer than the period of fixed interest rate. Focus on the real cost of money, dadgum it! (The way the Fed puts this merely emphasizes once again that they are bankers rather than economists or financial planners). It's possible for a loan like a thirty year fixed with an initial interest only rider to increase the payment without changing the fact that it's the same rate but that's a comparatively rare thing. How about combining the two restrictions? Negative Amortization loans have a low fixed payment, but the interest rate is variable from day one. But if the Fed won't take my suggestion, I'll take what I can get.

Require that the lender establish an escrow account for the payment of property taxes and homeowners' insurance. The lender may only offer the borrower the opportunity to opt out of the escrow account after one year.

And the Fed is back to putting their foot in their mouth (after stepping in dog doo). There have been so many impound account problems over the years that many states (California among them) have dealt with the issue and actually prohibited lenders from requiring an impound account, or even from pricing the loan differently if the consumer doesn't want one. Lest there be any doubt, this is one of the few things that the state legislature of California has done right in the last thirty years. This proposed regulation is incompatible with California state law as it exists. Upshot: I'm not a lawyer, so I'm not certain. It could be that there's no more new loans in California until the discrepancy is resolved. This is a regulation to protect bankers from themselves and from the saner moments of various state legislatures. It also raises the opportunity cost of refinancing, because as I explained in my article on Impound Accounts, the consumer has to either roll this money into the balance of their new loan (where they'll pay interest on it for as long as they have a loan) or come up with thousands of additional dollars in cash until they get the check from their old impound account. Like I've said many times, the Fed is composed of bankers, and makes its decisions for the benefit of bankers, not consumers. This proposal serves nobody but bankers.

Prohibit lenders from paying mortgage brokers "yield spread premiums" that exceed the amount the consumer had agreed in advance the broker would receive. A yield spread premium is the fee paid by a lender to a broker for higher-rate loans.

This I can live with. Not that it's not subject to manipulation, but I can live with it. As I've said when I explained Yield Spread, I just plan to make my money on origination and rebate the money for the yield spread to the consumer. Alternatively, I can "pad" what I actually expect to make by a little bit when I have the consumer sign off on the yield spread. Tell them I'm going to make a full point when I'm actually looking to make eight tenths, or three quarters when it's really a half. Of course, this is bankers trying to make brokers appear less competitive by distracting consumers from the net terms to them, because if I deliver the loan I originally said I would, it makes no difference to the consumer if I make two dollars or two million via yield spread. If my loan wasn't the best they were offered, they'd have gone with someone else. One small side benefit is that it might keep some idiots from floating the rate while telling the consumer it was locked.

Two more at once:

Prohibit certain servicing practices, such as failing to credit a payment to a consumer's account when the servicer receives it, failing to provide a payoff statement within a reasonable period of time, and "pyramiding" late fees.

* Prohibit a creditor or broker from coercing or encouraging an appraiser to misrepresent the value of a home.

I find it mind-boggling that these are not already prohibited by the Federal Reserve. I thought they were. Rock. Gravity. Use your imagination. Of course, this will have no impact upon state chartered institutions, but California must have dealt with this one a long time ago.

Prohibit seven misleading or deceptive advertising practices for closed-end loans; for example, using the term "fixed" to describe a rate that is not truly fixed. It would also require that all applicable rates or payments be disclosed in advertisements with equal prominence as advertised introductory or "teaser" rates.

I find it mind boggling that this wasn't done years ago. I've written about this many times. Must be all those congressional campaign contributions the lenders make. Once again, however, absolutely no effect upon state-chartered lending institutions.

Require truth-in-lending disclosures to borrowers early enough to use while shopping for a mortgage. Lenders could not charge fees until after the consumer receives the disclosures, except a fee to obtain a credit report.

Second part first, about not charging fees until after consumer receives disclosures: This is actually good. However, it's not a common problem, and it doesn't prohibit deposits, which a lender can then keep after they fork over the disclosures. Deposits are not fees. Once an unscrupulous lender has the money, good luck getting it back. This is why the more ethical loan providers are strictly "fees at time of service." You pay for the credit report when it is pulled. You pay for the appraisal when the appraiser does the work. You pay for the survey (in those states where it's required) when the surveyor does the work. But if the lender has your money, they can hold it hostage, even if it's not technically theirs yet. Practical effect in limiting unscrupulous practices: zero. In fact, it provides the unscrupulous with a bit of ready made misdirection. "It's just a deposit - we can't charge any fees until we give the disclosures" then immediately charge the fees out of the deposit even though the disclosures are pure nonsense.

Which is another problem. As I have gone over ad nauseum, none of the initial disclosures is in any way binding. Here is a very partial list of how lenders legally lowball each and every one of the initial disclosure forms. Truth-In-Lending, in particular, is based upon figures in the Good Faith Estimate or California MLDS, which are thus subject to low-balling. As any high school student who's ever messed up their chemistry or physics experiment can tell you, if you are basing your calculations upon bad measurements, the answer is going to be wrong. Logically, faulty premises produce a faulty conclusion. Or to quote the old programmer's maxim: Garbage In, Garbage Out. It doesn't matter how you get there. The mathematical calculations used to generate the Truth In Lending form require that the numbers used to generate the base document be complete and accurate. Since that is not the case, Truth in Lending is a joke, and for most practical purposes, you should ignore APR.

All in all, this looks somewhat like hearing Mighty Mouse's famous, "Here I come to save the Day!", only to look around and see Tennessee Tuxedo (If you're not familiar, the fact that he was voiced by Don Adams of Get Smart fame should tell you all you need to know, but the cartoon penguin was even more of a bungler). The good stuff should have been taken care of decades ago, the rest is more menace than anything else. "The Federal Reserve will not fail!" If only! I'm starting to think that Peter Sellers is not dead, only in hiding, secretly running the Federal Reserve as Inspector Closeau. It would explain a lot.

Rejected Offers to Purchase

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"overpriced house offer rejected what next"



(Before I get started, I want to make it clear that I am using the same definition of worth found in this article)

Well, the seller obviously didn't feel that it was overpriced. Given that they were unwilling to sell for that, consider the possibility that you didn't offer enough.



It's human nature to always want to blame the other side. Given the state of real estate prices here in San Diego, I have considerable sympathy for buyers these days. On the other hand, if you look at the sales log, sales are still being made. This means willing buyers and willing sellers are coming to an agreement that both feel leaves them better off, and they are doing it at market prices.



The fact is, there are always at least two possibilities when an offer is rejected, and the truth may be a mixture of the two.



First, that the seller is being unreasonable. This happens a lot. Somebody thinks their property is worth more than it's worth. When people can buy better properties for less, they're not going to be interested in yours. In this situation, you're not likely to get any good offers. You'll get people doing desperation checks - coming in with lowball offers to see how desperate you really are. A very large proportion of these are people in my profession looking for a quick flip and the profit that comes with it, or other investors. Anybody looking at properties priced where this one should be priced is likely not even going to come look.



Second possibility, the buyer is the one being unreasonable. Properties like that one really are selling for the asking price, and you offered tens of thousands less. Some buyers do this because it's all they can afford. Some buyers do this because they want to get a "score". And some are just the standard "looking to flip for a profit" that I talked about in the previous paragraph. There is a point at which I tell all but the most desperate sellers that they're better off rejecting the offer completely than counter-offering. It saves time and effort, and the prospective buyer either comes back with a better offer, or they go away completely. Someone offering $250,000 for a $350,000 property is not likely to be the person you want to sell to. Even if you talk them up into a reasonable offer by lengthy negotiations, they're far more likely than not to try all sorts of games to get it back down as soon as you're in escrow. Better to serve notice right away that you won't play.



Now some bozo agents think that starting from an extreme position, whether high list price or lowball offer to purchase, gives them more leverage, or that somehow you're eventually likely to end up in the middle. This is bullsh*t. A transaction requires a willing buyer and a willing seller. Price the property to market if you want it to sell. Offer a market price if you want the property.



Now, the Quickflippers™ have had a distorting effect on this, and disconcertingly many of the properties being offered for sale are owned by people who bought with the intention of the quick flip for profit, rather than buy and hold. Many of those looking to buy still fall into this same category, and I suspect this is much the same in other formerly hot housing markets as well. They've become addicted accustomed to the market of the last few years, when a monkey could make a profit on a property six months after they paid too much money to purchase it. That is not the market we face today. This market favors the buy and hold investor. Actually, if you remember the spreadsheet I programmed a while back, I've pretty much confirmed that the market always favors the buy and hold investor, it's just been masked by the feeding frenzy of the past few years, where John and Jane Hubris could come off looking like geniuses when it was just a quickly rising market and the effects of leverage making them look good. It's just that the support for the illusions of Mr. and Mrs. Hubris has now been removed.



Now, what to do when your offer has been rejected. There are two possibilities. The first is to walk away. If the home really is overpriced, and there are better properties to be had for less money, you made a reasonable offer and were rejected, you're better off walking away. I don't want to pay more for a property than it's comparable properties are selling for, and I certainly don't want my clients to do so either. The sort of people who go around making desperation check offers walk away without a second thought with considerably less justification.



The second is to consider that the property might really be worth more than you offered. Okay, a 3 bedroom 1 bath home did sell for that price in that neighborhood, but when you check out the details, that was a 900 square foot home on a 5000 square foot lot and the one you made an offer on is a 1600 square foot home on a 9000 square foot lot, and in better condition with more amenities. It's a more valuable property, and you can refuse to see that from now until the end of the world and you're only fooling yourself. The reason you thought the property was attractive enough to make an offer was that it had something the others you looked at didn't, and most of these attractors add a certain amount of value to the property. The more value there is, the more folks are willing to pay for it. This is why one of the classical tricks of unethical agents is to show you a property that's out of your price range, then figure out a way to get a loan where you qualify for the payment. This property is priced higher because it has features that add more value and a reasonable person would therefore conclude that other reasonable persons would be willing to pay more for that property than others. Landscaping, location, condition, more room, amenities. There's something that the seller thinks reasonable people would be willing to pay more for. It's kind of like taking someone who can afford a $10,000 car and showing them a $25,000 one, then telling them they can get interest only or negative amortization payments to get them into it. You only thought you could afford the $400,000 home, but they've got a way that you can get into the $600,000 home, which obviously is going to have many things that the $400,000 home lacks. Consumer lust does the rest. Cha-ching! Easy sale, and the fact that they've hosed the client doesn't come out until long after those clients made a video for the agent on move-in day when they're so happy they've got this beautiful house that they didn't think they could afford (and really can't), and they gush gush gush about Mr. Unscrupulous Agent, who then uses this video to hook more unsuspecting clients - never mind that the original victims in the scam lost the house, declared bankruptcy, and got a divorce because of the position Mr. Unscrupulous Agent put them into. You want to impress me with an agent, don't show me happy clients on move-in day. Emotional high of being brand-new homeowners aside, any monkey of a loan officer can get anybody with quasi-reasonable credit into the property. What happens when they have to make the payments? More importantly, what happens when they have to make the real payments? Given the current environment, the question, as I keep saying here, is not "can I get this loan through?" but "Is it in the best interests of the client to put this loan through?" You want to impress me with an agent, show me a happy customer five years out "My agent found this property that fit within my budget, told me all about the potential problems he saw, got the inspections and loan done, and it's been five years now with no surprises, and the only problem I've had was one he told me about before I even made the offer."



Of course, the real value of the property may be beyond your range or reach. If your agent showed you something you could not reasonably acquire within your budget, you should fire them. I accept clients with a known budget, I'm saying I can find something they want within that range. If it becomes evident I was wrong (eyes bigger than wallet syndrome) the proper thing to do is inform the client that their budget will not stretch to the kind of property they want, and suggest some solutions, starting with "look at less expensive properties" and moving from there to "find a way to increase the budget" and finally to "creative financing options." That's a real agent, not "Start with creative financing options but somehow 'neglect' to mention the issues down the road."



There is no universal always works strategy for rejected purchase offers. It's okay to do desperation checks, but be aware that most sellers aren't desperate and that it's likely to poison the environment if the seller isn't that desperate. Poisoning the environment is okay if you're a "check for desperation and then move on" Quickflipper™, but if you're looking for a property you want and have found something attractive, it's likely to be counterproductive so that you may end up paying thousands more that you maybe could have gotten the property for if you'd just offered something marginally reasonable in the first place. Make a reasonable offer in the first place, and you're likely to at least get a dialog. And if the seller rejected what really was a reasonable offer for an overpriced property, the only one to lose is them. Move on. Their loss is someone else's gain.



Caveat Emptor (and Vendor)

If you read the papers and the congressional record on the current housing crisis, you might think yield spread is the central culprit for the entire meltdown. You would be wrong.

Yield spread is a beneficial tool, offered voluntarily by lenders, that is an alternative to consumers paying all of the costs of a mortgage themselves.

No matter who does your loan, broker or direct lender, they need to get paid for doing it. If they cannot make money at it, they won't be in the business of doing loans. There are high cost loans and low cost loans, and any number of ways of paying those costs, but there is no such thing as a free loan, and anybody who pretends otherwise is either a naive child or lying through their teeth. There are a very few loan providers out there who will finish loans on which they don't make anything in order to keep their promise about the terms of that loan to clients, but there has never been a loan in the history of the world where the provider planned not to make anything.

Yield spread arises as a by-product of the price that the lender receives on the secondary market. For thirty year fixed rate conforming loans, as of a couple days ago, at 5.5%, lenders were making about 20 cents per hundred dollars over the actual dollar value, in addition to the roughly $1.30 per hundred dollars the lowest priced lender I had was charging brokers. For a $300,000 loan, this means they were making roughly $4500 for a loan where the broker did all the work from attracting the customer onwards through the rest of the loan (the rate cost three points in the one direct branch I saw last week, so they'd be making about $9600 there). None of this covers all the fees for service, aka closing costs, or loan price adjustors. This is purely from the act of putting the money to the deal. At 6.00%, the lenders were making about $1.56 per $100 of loan amount directly, and that's about where wholesale par was, the loans that brokers could do without any explicit charge for the money. The direct branch wanted a point and a half to do that loan. Finally, at 6.5, they were making about $2.31 per hundred dollars directly from the secondary market, and they were agreeing to give brokers about seventy-five cents of that in the form of Yield Spread.

What this boils down to is that wholesale lender is looking to make about 1.5% of the loan amount, no matter what loan the consumer is put into, merely for the act of loaning the money. It is out of the difference between the number the wholesale lenders charge, and what their retail lending branches charge, that brokers make their living. If brokers can get the loan done for less than the retail branch, and still make money, the consumer comes out ahead.

There is no requirement for lenders to offer Yield Spread. They don't do so to enable brokers to hose customers that they would rather have walking into their own retail branches. They do it to compete for the business of people who have discovered that using brokers is actually a way to get the same loan cheaper. They do so because other lenders do so. Because they really want that $1.50 per hundred dollars loaned, they'll willingly give up most of any amount over that to encourage brokers to come to them, rather than the other lender. As I've said, in loans there is no difference in brand names. It's just money. So long as the terms are the same, it really doesn't matter if you're making the check for payments out to "International Megabank, Inc" or "Fifty-Third Bank of Podunk," and that really is the only difference. In fact, using brokers as a way to expand their reach is one of the ways small lenders can become major players quickly, without the expense of opening branches. More than one major household name has done precisely that. By the way, this $1.50 per hundred dollars loaned is very low by historical standards - it was roughly $2.50 twelve months ago, and twelve months before that it was more like $4.00. But there's a lot of money chasing not very many borrowers right now. Nor is any of this in any way evil. As a matter of fact, it has enabled much lower interest rates for consumers than the traditional lending model where the lenders held the loans for the duration.

Nor do lenders like paying yield spread. They'd rather have the entire secondary market premium for themselves. They offer it for one reason and one reason only: Because the brokers would otherwise take their clients to a different lender who did offer it. Most brokers operate on a set margin per loan, especially the better ones. The good ones are willing to disclose this margin, the bad ones will do everything they can to hide it. This margin may vary between loans. If borrower A is a slam-dunk A paper borrower, that loan can be done a lot more easily than a sub-prime borrower who needs to qualify based upon bank statements, and will eat up a lot less of my time and therefore, the loan should be done on a thinner margin. Whatever this margin is, it can be paid via origination (a charge for doing the application and getting the loan done), it can be paid via flat dollar charge to the borrower, it can be paid via yield spread, or it can be paid via a combination of these. But it is going to get paid. When I quote a loan, I quote it in terms of terms and total cost to the consumer, including what I make, and if I'm not going to make enough to make it worth my while to leave home, I'd rather not do the loan. Others quote higher, building a bit in that they're prepared to negotiate away if the client asks. Still others just make believe that they're going to deliver the loan on better terms than they will actually deliver it to get you to sign up with them - but the chances of anyone actually pricing the loan so as not to make anything are zero. Consumers looking to tell the difference between better and worse providers should ask for a Loan Quote Guarantee, as well as all the other Questions you should ask loan providers.

Yield spread is nota cost paid by consumers. It doesn't show up anywhere in the list of charges they pay. Were its disclosure not mandated by federal law, the consumer would have absolutely no evidence of its existence except, possibly, the absence of other charges or the fact that they have been paid without the consumer having to shell out a dime. I agree with the disclosure law, by the way. Indeed, I want to expand it to require lenders to disclose the secondary market premium they would be paid assuming they sold the loan. Now consumers do pay for yield spread indirectly, of course, with increased interest charges during the life of the loan. But they pay those same charges whether incurred as a result of a broker earning yield spread or a lender being able to make the money on the secondary market. Furthermore, paying those charges will be to the consumer's benefit if the increased charges for interest offset or more than offset the higher fees they would have to pay in order to get a lower rate. Most consumers do not keep their loans long enough to justify the higher fees for a lower interest loan. Similarly, if the loan is going to go to from a fixed or set rate to a variable rate loan before the higher costs for a lower rate have been recouped, whatever wasn't recovered before that happens has been wasted, as all the loans of a given type reset to the same rate when they adjust - doesn't matter whether you got a zero cost loan out of Yield Spread, or you paid five points to buy the rate down, and therefore the payment. But the 4.875% 3/1 that closes today will in three years reset to the exact same rate and payment as they 6.25% 3/1. Well, not exactly. Because assuming they did what most borrowers do and roll those costs into the loan, that 4.875% loan will have a higher balance owed than the one that was initially 6.25%, and therefore will have a higher payment when they both reset. So yield spread has done the latter borrower a favor by helping them control overall loan costs.

Let's look at what happens if we count yield spread as part of the costs of the loan. First off, it makes it appear as if loans including yield spread are more expensive than ones without. This gives direct lenders an advantage over brokers. Let's consider an actual real world example: A few days ago, a retail lending branch offered one of my prospects a 6.125% loan for one point, while he came back to me and I locked him into for 6.125% for ZERO points, a price which included me making about nine tenths of a point in yield spread. Assuming closing costs are the same (in fact, mine are lower than theirs), here's what the client sees now on a loan with a $300,000 loan payoff. (I'm also going to assume anything other than actual costs, such as prepaid interest, are paid out of pocket)

item
payoff
closing cost
origination
new balance
payment
lender
$300,000
$2900
$3060
$305,960
$1859.05
broker
$300,000
$2900
$0
$302,900
$1840.46

This reflects reality. The client ends up with a loan balance $3060 lower, and a payment $18.59 lower, through getting exactly the same thirty year fixed rate loan through me as he would have gotten through that lender.

But if I have to count yield spread as a part of the cost of the loan to the consumer despite the fact that he's not paying it, here's what the sheet looks like:

loan
payoff
closing cost
origination
yield spread
"total cost"
new balance
payment
lender
$300,000
$2900
$3060
$0
$5960
$305,960
$1859.05
broker
$300,000
$2900
$0
$2726.10
$5626.10
$302,900
$1840.46

Note that it now looks like the consumer is paying almost as much for the broker loan as for the lender loan. They're not. Keep in mind that this is for exactly the same thirty year fixed rate loan at 6.125% - except that the consumer's loan balance if they go through the broker ends up $3000 lower. That $2726.10 in yield spread is not a cost to the consumer. Indeed, Yield Spread is only a cost to the lender. Note that the consumer's balance and payments in no way reflect yield spread, and my client has been told about it, but really doesn't care. Being a rational consumer, he shopped for the loan on the best terms to him and his family. He doesn't care if I'm making ten cents or ten million dollars. All he cares about is I get him the exact same thing for a cost that is thousands of dollars less. But if Yield Spread is listed as part of the cost on the Good Faith Estimate (or MLDS in California), then it appears as if that lender's loan is a lot more competitive than it really is, i.e. $5950 to $5626, not the reality of $5960 to $2900. Furthermore, this was an uncommonly broad difference, that still looks like the broker is offering a better loan. Far more common is a differential spread of half a point or so. If the price differential were only half a point, the broker's loan would look more expensive, while being in fact less expensive to the consumer who doesn't know yield spread is an accounting phantom as far as they are concerned. The consumer would still be saving money with the broker - about $1500, a full 25% of the actual costs of the loan, but listing yield spread as a cost makes it appear as if the lender's loan is cheaper when it is in fact more expensive.

Furthermore, listing yield spread as a cost has some other effects. Suppose you live in an area where the cost of housing is about $60,000 to $80,000 or less. Under the same bill in congress proposing to count yield spread as a cost to consumers even though it is not, is a provision limiting total costs of loans to six percent. Six percent of $60,000 is $3600. Six percent of $80,000 is $4800. There literally is not a loan that a broker can do under these limits. I can't keep the doors open on $700 per loan, which is all that's left after those $2900 of fixed closing costs at the low end. It's not like I get to spend every dollar the company makes on my family. Even at the higher end, it's probably not worth my while to accept a loan on which I can only make $1900. Effect: Brokers in those areas go out of business, but direct lenders are still in business, lessening competition. They can jack up the rates until the secondary market will pay them enough, and secondary market premiums aren't part of costs, even in the artificial environment of this new bill. Result: Rates rise, lending margins rise, competition is less. Big Winner: direct lenders, who clean up with all the extra money they make. Big Loser: brokers, who go out of business. Of course, consumers lose, too, as do real estate agents because prices are lower as a direct result of higher rates, but hey, that's okay because the bankers who bundle million dollar campaign contributions made out!

Suppose you live in an area, such as I do, where the cost of housing and loans is enough higher for this not to be a danger. One cold hard fact is that there are still people who bought years ago that bankers have a free field with because brokers cannot legally do their loans and still make enough money to keep the doors open. Consider a $200,000 loan, where 6% is $12,000, so the maximum loan cost just isn't a factor. Such a person, realizing that they've owned this property ten years and refinanced five times, decides they want a zero cost loan, because they'll come out better. Well, a broker can still get them a loan that doesn't really cost them anything, but brokers no longer are legally capable of calling it a zero cost loan, because legally, yield spread is a cost. All we can do is call it by some name that sounds like a legalistic way to lie. So now lenders can advertise "true zero cost loans," and brokers are breaking the law if they try, despite the fact that they offer the same loan at zero real cost to the consumer with a rate a quarter of a percent less than the lender will. Indeed, for all the low cost options, the lenders now appear to be cheaper than brokers even though they are not. Also found in this same legislation currently in Congress is a provision to make it illegal for brokers to get part of their compensation via yield spread and part via origination. This is the vast majority of my current loan business, because it's the range where the Tradeoff between rate and cost is best for consumers. Say I figure I need eight tenths of a point to make a loan worthwhile for me to do. If the yield spread for the rate the customer chooses is three tenths of a point, I need a half point of origination to make it work. But now I can't do this loan the simple way. I have to charge eight tenths origination, and even though I agree to rebate the three tenths of a point of yield spread to the consumer - in other words, it's going into the borrowers pocket, not mine or anyone else's, it still legally counts as a cost of the loan. So the new accounting with the requirement of adding double counting the yield spread to the official cost of the loan makes it look like the broker's loan costs 1.1 points, even though the consumer is only paying five tenths net, getting three tenths of a point in their pocket. If the trade off was seven tenths of yield spread to one of origination, it looks like a 1.5 point loan by this new accounting, even though the consumer is only paying one tenth of a point. Result: Consumers are going to have to have an accounting degree to realize that the broker's loan, which looks more expensive, is in fact the cheaper loan.

Needless to say, this is the exact opposite of what the government should be looking to do. But the mortgage banking industry has much bigger pockets than the mortgage broker industry, and they realized quite early on in this whole meltdown that if they painted brokers and yield spread as bad and controlled the narrative and their bought friends in congress controlled congressional testimony, they could make this entire housing meltdown for which they were more responsible than any other group into a public relations opportunity to restore the dominance of residential lending they had forty years ago. Bankers don't like paying yield spread, and they don't like competing with brokers, whose costs are lower because nobody expects brokers to have flawlessly landscaped offices with three inch think carpet, security guards, and armored bank vaults, or to wear $2000 suits. They do so only through what they saw as a tragedy of the commons type mechanism, where they could compete for broker's business at the costs of lessening their own margins, or not get any. Of course, this tragedy for lenders was a boon for consumers, but their responsibilities are to their own bottom line, and if they can legally shackle brokers, not to mention legally keeping their competition among other lenders from competing for broker business, those lenders are all better off.

Who's not better off? Well, basically everyone. Lessened competition, loan documents that make it appear as if one provider's loans are more expensive than actual while not making equivalent disclosures about other provider's loans, all of this translates into higher loan prices for consumers. It may seem penny ante to object to consumers paying a few hundred dollars extra here, a few thousand dollars extra there, but when you put it together across 100 million units or more, this translates into hundreds of billions per year, all sliced into fewer pie portions because the lending industry just effectively got a lot smaller, and with brokers diminished the costs of entry just got a lot steeper for any new lenders who want a piece of the action.

Yield spread is a tool, and a highly beneficial one from consumer's point of view. It has been one of the largest contributing factors in the rise of brokers, and through brokers, of making mortgages more affordable to consumers. It is not a cost to the consumer, and should not be treated as such, although it should be disclosed, as it is required to be. It can be misused, as it was in the case of negative amortization loans, but the ultimate indictment there goes back to the lenders who offered the loans and the high yield spreads, with regulators and mortgage brokers solely in supporting roles. Indeed the best way to fix this entire problem for the future would be to fix the disclosure rules to make the process clear to the consumer, as I wrote last month in How to Avoid A Repeat of the Housing Market Mess - but if Congress starts to fix those, nobody would be able to hose the consumers, and (sarcasm on) we can't have that, can we?

Caveat Emptor

Got a search for that, and it occurred to me that it is a valid question. The answer is yes.

The degree varies. You can simply contact the bank to make yourself responsible for payment. They are usually happy to do this, although unlike revolving accounts you typically will not receive back credit on your credit score for the entire length of time the trade line has been open. Nonetheless, if the bank reports the mortgage as paid as part of your credit, it can help you increase your credit score, so long as the mortgage actually gets paid on time every month. One 30 day late is plenty to kill any advantage for most folks. This is typically free. Hey, the bank has one more person to pay the mortgage! This is often used as a way to start rebuilding credit after a bankruptcy or other financial disaster. A friend or family member qualifies for the loan, then adds the person looking to recover to the loan later.

If you want to go one better than that, you can actually modify the deed of trust to make yourself responsible for payment, although it really has no measurable benefit as opposed to simply agreeing to be responsible, and it costs money to notarize and record the modification.

Unless you can get a better rate by doing so, I would advise against a full re-qualification for the mortgage just to add someone. It's a lot of hassle and expense for no particular gain. If you want to get me paid, I'm cool with that, but there are better ways to accomplish the gain to your credit at far less expense.

Caveat Emptor.

"what can a consumer recover from title company for undisclosed easement"

Basically, the cost of the immediate remedy, at least here in California.

Here's a standard example. Mr. and Ms. Smith buy a property and they wish to put a pool in. The purchase process reveals no easements and they quickly take possession of the property and start digging. Three hours later, the contractor hits a four foot water pipe buried six feet deep and cutting right across exactly where the pool needs to be.

With a standard owner's policy of title insurance, the title company will pay for the contractor's bill, including the cost of filling in that hole they dug. There may also be a small settlement made for the decreased utility of the property. After all, you can't really do anything about that easement, now can you? Nor can you build anything that conflicts with the easement holder's right of access. No pool, no granny flat, no game room or detached office, at least on that segment of the property, which, given the size of most recent lots, means not at all.

The title company will not, under the basic policy, purchase the property or make a large settlement. The reason for this is that if the standard policy made them liable for things like frustrated purpose of purchase, the standard policy would be far more expensive. People wouldn't want to purchase policies of title insurance, because they insured against risks which are relatively rare, but extremely expensive when they do occur. Who pays for that? The other policyholders, of course.

You can purchase a rider or endorsement for extended title coverage, of course. Furthermore, if certain purposes are critical to your reasons for acquiring the property, you can do additional research, or pay to have it done. It can be expensive, but if you don't want this $500,000 property unless you can build a pool, an office, or a granny flat on it, spending the money can be an excellent insurance policy.

Caveat Emptor

Can I qualify for first time home buyer financing if I buy a duplex and live in one and rent out the other?

I thought if I bought a duplex, lived in one side and rented out the other would be a good idea to help pay the mortgage. I would live there for a couple years then move and rent the entire duplex as an investment property

It would be very popular to answer "yes".

However, the fact is that the only nationwide first time buyer program in existence, the Mortgage Credit Certificate, explicitly disallows all multiple unit property from participating.

Furthermore, I've dealt with the federally funded local first time buyer programs throughout southern California (in excess of forty different municipalities). In every single case I'm familiar with, it's a requirement that it be a single family residence. Just like the MCC, no duplexes, no apartment buildings, no "2 on 1" properties. Condos, townhomes, and PUDs are fine, but nothing intended for more than one family to live in.

People sometimes get confused because of the way residential property is defined (1-4 units), but just because something qualifies as residential property doesn't mean it is eligible for a first time buyer program.

Finally, for every first time buyer program I'm aware of, the government assistance goes away (as with the MCC), or worse, becomes immediately due, should you move out. For example, in the municipality where my office is located, they have a very nice "silent second" program. It means you only have to actually pay the mortgage on a potentially much smaller amount, usually wiping out a need for PMI or a conventional second mortgage, while the city's second accrues at a very low rate. But if you move out, they'll call the loan, which means you've got thirty days to get them their money somehow before they foreclose.

(They also flatly refuse to subordinate, meaning you're not going to be able to refinance without paying them off, so you'd better choose a fixed rate loan that you can really afford for your primary mortgage in the first place)

There may be municipalities somewhere where this is permitted under their local programs, but I've never heard of one, and I do suspect it's prohibited in the legislation and regulations for the federal administration that funds these local programs. The First Time Buyer programs are intended to stabilize neighborhoods, and make it a little easier for people to be able to afford to buy housing they intend to live in. They are not intended to help you build a real estate empire - as a matter of fact, that's somewhat counter to their purpose. They are also never free of strings. If you intend on taking advantage of these programs, it would behoove you to make certain you understand what those strings are, as well as all of the implications, before you've got a purchase contract. Some of the strings on first time buyer programs are real deal-killers. For example, a city about a half hour's drive from my office has one that looks really nice at first glance, but restricts both who you sell to and what you can sell for, eviscerating the economic benefits of ownership and making you essentially a renter who also pays maintenance and property taxes. Unless you're just going to live there forever, which may not be under your control, that's not a desirable situation. Probably better to buy in the city next door, which has a more useful for your financial future "silent second" program much like the one described above. You need to be careful with first time buyer's programs, lest you end up in a situation that does not justify your expenditures with future benefits.

Caveat Emptor

Having done both, there's no question in my mind. For the average person and the average transaction, the buyer's agent makes a lot more difference. In the aggregate, a good buyer's agent has the opportunity to make a lot more difference to the situation than a listing agent.

There are exceptions. I don't know any rule of thumb that don't. But the leverage is all on the side of the buyer's agent. There is nothing about the situation that the listing agent deals with that does not have its roots in the purchase of that property.

That listing agent does a lot of work, and provides a lot of value. They have absolutely no input, however, on the identity of the property being sold. You can clean it, paint it, put additions in, landscape it. It's still the same property the people originally bought, however long ago. Nothing that listing agent can do is going to change the location or basic construction. If those are a problem, it's because of the buyer's agent, who could have directed the owners to a different property. Without a bulldozer, nobody is changing the basic construction, and nobody is changing the location of the property, period.

Maybe there was no buyer's agent. The observation stands. Whether the people acted as their own agent or went along with Dual Agency, somebody did it. If a better buyer's agent, or one actually working for the buyers, could or would have brought something to the owner's attention that led to them not making an offer on that property, they wouldn't own it now. Therefore, it lies squarely in the purview of the buyer's agent.

From the first moment prospective owners consider visiting a property, the buyer's agent is involved. Even before. The buyer's agent should be working with the prospective owners on what they can afford, what they must have, and what they can live without. Everything in real estate is a tradeoff. Price versus number of bedrooms versus location versus time to buy versus literally hundreds of other characteristics. Amenities that will make a positive difference later, whether in price or in ease of sale, are a buyer's agent's responsibility, as is keeping people from paying extra for things that don't make a difference.

Your ability to enjoy a property for the period of time you live in it traces directly to how well the buyer's agent did their job. All of that time you lived in the property, whether you realize it or not, you were either praising or cursing that buyer's agent. Maybe you could have done better with a bigger budget - but the buyer's agent can always make a difference. Maybe you could have done better with more patience -it's up to the buyer's agent to make that clear. Whether you're able to rent it afterwards, how easily and for how much, the marketability of the property when it comes time to sell, the repairs you have to make, and the differential between that property and the rest of the neighborhood as far as desirability and sale price, all trace back to how well the buyer's agent did their job.

Owners can modify property. The buyer's agent should have made clear what's likely to make a difference in the sale price, and what's more likely to end up being simply for your own enjoyment. Most major work typically does not return anything like 100% of the cost in terms of sale price, meaning the remainder of that cost had better be indicative of how much enjoyment you personally got out of it in the interim. A good agent will go over likely remodels that will do you some good, whether they're helping you buy or sell, but truthfully, in which case is it more likely you'll do some significant work?

The most salient part of a buyer's agent's job is to keep you from wasting money - paying more for the property than you can get an equally valuable property for nearby. By the time the listing agent comes on the scene, that's a moot point. The property is what it is and is worth what it's worth. If it's good, the listing agent has a much better success story. If it's not, all the listing agent can do amounts to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. On listings, it's really rare that I have have more than two weeks to work with a property before it hits the market. I can help the owners make what's there more visually attractive, but I can't really change it much in most cases. When I'm helping buyers, the vast majority of the time I can keep them from dealing with a problem property at all.

When I'm listing, my clients own a property, and they would like to exchange it for cash. I can get more people interested enough to view it, I can stage it so it's more attractive to them, and I can definitely concentrate my efforts on people fitting the property in terms of lifestyle and requirements. But the property itself pretty much already has to fit their requirements, at a price they can afford. If it doesn't do the former, they won't make an offer, and if it doesn't do the latter, the escrow will fail, as the era of make-believe loans is over. I can't really make a two bedroom structure into a three, no matter how many agents try by entering the larger number. I can't magically add another tub, or an entire bathroom, either. If the lot is 5000 square feet, steeply sloped, and planted in water efficient desert plants, that property is not likely to be attractive to the family who wants a place for their young children to play outside. Potential buyers are going to figure the basic elements of this out, and they'll do it before they make an offer. It's not like it requires any intellectual feats more impressive than Og the Australopithecus was capable of. Or even George of the Jungle. I can market the property ahead of this curve, or behind it. The former leads to fewer showings, but better, more qualified prospects. The latter leads to frustrated clients who have opened their house to dozens of prospects, but no offers. That's one of many real differences the listing agent makes.

But when I'm helping some people buy, the only limits upon the process are the number of properties that match my client requirements. My buyer has either cash, or the ability to get it, and that's what every seller wants. Consider groceries: With two or three dollars you can always walk into the store and buy a loaf of bread of your choice. But if you choose the wrong loaf, changing that loaf of bread back into dollars is a lot more problematical. The same thing applies, greatly magnified, to real estate.

Good agents can spot most of the signs of destructive settling, of likely non-permitted additions, leaky roofs, bad plumbing, ancient wiring, and the vast majority of the time, good agents will talk clients out of a problem property before it gets to the point of an offer, and steer them to a property that they're going to be much happier with (and usually for about the same price, if not less). This translates to a property that's much easier to sell, and for a higher price, than the one I talked them out of. Not to mention fewer, less costly repairs, and increased general enjoyment for the time they live there. Not to mention administrative details such as if the sellers of the Nightmare (house) on Elm Street never have my client's deposit money, we definitely don't have to go hand to hand combat in the courts to get it back, and if they don't get into a bad situation in the first place, my clients don't have to pay attorneys to get them out of it - Maybe.

If our clients want to know what my company's stake in them buying one property versus another, I think we should tell them (once we look it up). It shouldn't be relevant to the thought process of either client or agent. Either this property is the one with the better trade-offs for the buyers, or it isn't. If it's not, I shouldn't be trying to sell it to them. If it is the best possible purchase, the fact that the seller wants to pay my company eight percent of the sales price to get it sold versus two and a half or three doesn't make it not so (and no, I've never seen anything higher than five, although the ones offering more than customary are as likely to be overpriced as the ones offering too little, and more likely to have problems that will be revealed at some point in the escrow process). If my client wants to weigh my motivation, they're entitled to do so. If I need to do some introspection on my own motivations, pretending I don't isn't going to help me. But the vast majority of the time, it means I need to explain myself better, and show the client so they can see what I'm talking about with their own eyes.

When you really think about who makes the most difference to the future of the prospective client, basically all of the factors line up on the side of the buyer's agent. There is usually nothing about any situation any listing agent ever deals with that does not have its roots in an issue a buyer's agent did or did not deal with. Talk with successful, experienced, long term, multiple property investors. They'll tell you the same thing - they made most of what they made because of what they bought or didn't buy. The money was really made on the purchase; the sale only formalized the exact dollar amount. This also illustrates why you need to be able to get rid of ineffective buyer's agents, hence my recommendation of non-exclusive buyer's agency agreements. It's easy for agents to talk a good game in the office, and it's easy to burn a few listings they don't really want you to buy. You want someone who will continue to be a good buyer's agent, because they haven't got you trapped by their agreement for months. The vast majority of the people I work with never go see another agent, but that's always their choice, because they know from having seen me in action that they're not likely to find anyone as good, not because I have them stuck in an exclusive agreement for six months. Show me someone who requires an exclusive agreement, and I'll show you someone who isn't secure in their own ability.

Caveat Emptor

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Moderately good news for sellers, not so great for buyers.

I wrote a few days ago about the federal government and lenders agreeing to freeze rates.

This isn't a panacea, by any means. It may not help people who had interest only loans, which will still begin to amortize. It won't help those already in default. It certainly won't help those who bought with negative amortization, who never were paying the real payments.

That said, it will give those who could afford the initial cost of money, but have been frustrated by the fact that prices have declined and they're upside-down and therefore cannot refinance into a "normal" loan type because of that fact.

Practical effect on the market: Nothing immediately, as in right this instant. But based upon statistical summaries of who has what loans, at least half of the people who would have been forced into foreclosure in coming months are going to be able to hold on. The vast majority of these, given the five year breathing space given by the government deal, will be able to keep making their payments until such time as they are able to sell or refinance normally. This means the "huge tidal wave of foreclosures" that market doomsday advocates have been going on about becomes a shallow wash.

The statistician and the financial planner in me are actually both in admiration of this move. It not only doesn't cost taxpayers any money directly, I suspect that the longer term effect will be to save us some money, as fewer lenders go down and we have to stand up for fewer government guarantees. It won't help those who couldn't afford their loans in the first place, but it will give aid and comfort to those who suffered solely from price declines. I've said over and over again that the only time the value of a property is important is when it's bought, sold, or refinanced. Unfortunately for those who bought with 2/28s or 3/27s that have now reset higher (or are about to), refinancing is one of those times. They bought with a loan that they really could afford now, just not indefinitely. They knew they were going to need to refinance, and were counting upon their value not to have decreased critically when that time came. However, prices in much of the country have critically decreased. This means that when they needed to refinance because their rate reset, now they were prevented from doing so by the terms on which lenders will extend replacement financing.

Yes, these folks should have limited themselves to properties they could afford on a thirty year fixed rate basis, and I lost a lot of business through preaching about making the situation sustainable. However, I don't have it in me to throw people out of their homes for the (sarcasm on) horrible crime (end sarcasm) of not following my advice. The agents and loan officers who gave such people horrible advice are heaving a huge collective sigh of relief, but my desire for schadenfreude isn't great enough to endure the consequences for all those others, either. Furthermore, the more the market declines, the worse everyone gets hurt. This includes people who were thoroughly blameless as well as people like me, who did our best to avert the disaster. I also suspect that most of the malefactors are still going to get burned, having advised clients to do things which are not covered by the government agreement.

In fact, the government plan helps affected homeowners in direct proportion to how well they really could afford their property in the first place. Also being voluntary on the part of the lenders, it wouldn't have happened if they didn't see it as being in their best interests. The plan gives them cover for doing en masse what they would have had to do for those borrowers individually. All in all, the government has accomplished a noteworthy feat of financial judo.

Furthermore, it carves the heart out of any predictions of coming disaster in the housing market. There is not going to be a huge amount of involuntary supply hitting the market in the coming months. In point of fact, a large percentage of the people who would have lost their homes to foreclosure have already "voluntarily" placed their properties on the market, as the least damaging avenue available to them as individuals. Many of these did not even know they could ask their lender for a modification. Some still don't know that it's true in general, but due to the publicity about this deal, have done so about their loan in particular.

Indeed, I would expect a certain number of people to withdraw their properties from the market, as they contact their lenders and find out they can now afford to stay. They bought these properties because they wanted to live in them, after all. It's only been four days since the announcement as I write this, so I wouldn't expect to see such results of that yet, as it's going to take a while before the homeowners are sure they can take it off the market.

Here's one fact: we've seen a slight uptick in new escrows locally this last week over last, from 450 to 470. The ratio of supply to demand, at 40 to 1, is the lowest I've seen it since the early days of summer. Smack in the middle of Christmas season. You might have seen me write that nobody wants to move the Christmas Tree before, despite it being the best time of year to buy, not only vis a vis sellers but also for tax reasons. Given the market environment, this is indicative of an uptick in demand more than anything having to do with supply. In the middle of Christmas season.

So here we are seeing a small increase in demand as well as the seeds of a decrease in supply. At the time of year when activity is usually at its lowest. What does this tell you?

I've been saying for six months that mass psychology is the only thing keeping this market down. The old Fear and Greed, reversed in their effects from two years ago. People afraid prices are going lower, or greedily betting that they will. But trying to time the market - any market - is a bad idea.

San Diego Area Median Income is now $69,700 per year. For the mathematically challenged, that's a monthly income of $5800 per month. Using standard Fannie and Freddie standards (and A paper lenders have been sitting pretty these last few months), that means that the median family can afford $2613 per month. As I type this, I've got a 6% thirty year fixed rate loan for less than one total point. If someone doesn't have a down payment, add PMI of just under 1%. With $100 per month for insurance, they can afford $320,000. With $200 per month for HOA dues, that's still almost $310,000. There are seventy-five properties on the market in the same zip code as my office where the asking price is that low. If you consider the properties where it could be bargained down that far, it's at least 120 and probably over 150. In one zip code. Median income families without a down payment, and below average (but not putrid) credit. There are over 100 zip codes in the San Diego MLS.

There were 774 sales consummated in the last 30 days, throughout the county. And keep in mind that $69,700 median includes statistics of minimum wage people as well as CEOs. A couple where each earns $15 to $20 per hour can easily afford a starter property, even without a down payment. No, they can't afford the brand new 5 bedroom 4 bath 3000 square foot mini-mansion that advertisers are telling us everyone "needs", but they never could, either. Our parents raised families of five in three bedroom 1200 square foot homes, our grandparents raised families of eight in one and two bedroom 600 and 800 square foot apartments. There's no reason why a family of four can't fit in either one - no reason except envy, that is. For the last decade or so, marketers have been telling people that they didn't have to settle. Well, that was never true, and the loans that enabled people to pretend it was are no longer to be found. I've written before about the long term benefits of home ownership. You can have what you can afford, or you can miss out on the benefits altogether. Matter of fact, as I've said before, the best way to leverage yourself into what you want is to start by buying what you can afford now.

Given these facts, I'm thinking that we're seeing the low point of the market right about now. The horrible part about relying upon mass psychology and using it to try to time the market is that mathematically, at least fifty percent of the people who do so will be left in the dust when the market takes off. All it takes is one good month, and a market turn fueled by the mass psychological phenomenon (or the collapse of such) becomes a positive feedback loop. In fact, if the market does get worse, that only exacerbates the strength of the recovery when it happens. Affordability-wise, we're back where we were four to six years ago. Given the scarcity of new land for development and other constrictions of supply, and the fact that we're not suffering from any shortages of people who want to buy property here, this may be the best opportunity to buy in San Diego we'll see in our lifetime.

Caveat Emptor

So what else is available, besides the thirty year fixed?

There are many kinds of loan out there. Here's a quick overview:

A Paper

In addition to the thirty year fixed, there are several other varieties of fixed rate loan available, and several that are not. Commonly available are five year fixed, ten year fixed, fifteen year fixed, twenty year fixed, and twenty-five, as well as forty making a comeback.

I tend to avoid them all with my clients, except for the thirty year fixed. You can always pay more if you have more money that month, but you cannot always pay less. The shorter the term, the lower the interest rate should be, as not only are they guaranteeing the rate will not change for a lesser period, but the shorter the term, the more principal you are paying every month and the less risky the loan is. Nonetheless, they are also harder to qualify for because the minimum payment is higher.

For instance, if you have $2000 per month payment that you qualify for, then at 6.5 percent interest rate, here are the amounts you qualify for:

term
40
30
25
20
15
10
5
amount
$341,600
$316,400
$296,200
$268,200
$229,500
$176,100
$102,200

Thirty year fixed rate loans also come in interest only loans, usually for five years.

A paper loans also come in Balloon Loans, with thirty year amortization, where you make payments "as if" if were a thirty year fixed rate loan, but they are due in full after five or seven years (a few ten year balloons exist, and fifteen year balloons are almost exclusively Home Equity Loans). The shorter the balloon period, the lower the rate should be.

A paper loans also come in hybrid ARMs, with thirty year amortization and payoff term, but shorter fixed period. Unlike Balloons, you are welcome to keep them the full thirty years if you want to, but most folks want to refinance or sell before the adjustment begins. One, three, five, seven and ten years are commonly available fixed terms. Once they begin adjusting, they are based upon an underlying index plus a margin above that, and the vast majority of A paper hybrids adjust once per year. For A paper, this is usually the US Treasury rate or the one year LIBOR. COFI, COSI, and MTA are Alt-A negative amortization loans, not A paper, and all three varieties are the same stuff from different outhouses. There are probably a hundred times more negative amortization loans than there should be, because they are so easy for those in search of a quick commission check to sell by the payment when you slap a friendly sounding label like "Pick a pay" on them.

Finally, there are some few A paper that are true ARMS, or so close that they might as well be. Month to month loans, three month loans, and six month loans. Their adjustments are usually on the same basis as hybrid ARMs, and they have thirty year amortizations. Some are even available in interest only.

Sub-prime loans come in more flavors. The most common are fixed for two years, the next most for three. Both come in thirty and forty year amortization periods, as well as interest only. Interest only usually carries a higher rate for the fixed period, because they are riskier loans from the lender's point of view, but the payment is lower. These are usually called 2/28, 2/38, 3/27 and 3/37 loans, for the fixed period and the remaining term thereafter. Interest only variants are all 2/28 or 3/27, and when they begin adjusting. Some sub-prime lenders also offer 5/25 and 7/23 programs. Once they adjust, all of these loans adjust every six months, which is one way to usually tell if you have a sub-prime or A paper hybrid ARMs, as the latter almost always adjust once per year, although a few lenders also have A paper hybrids that adjust at six month intervals.

Sub-prime loans also have thirty and forty year fixed rate loans, with some thirty year fixed rates having an interest only option, usually carrying a quarter of a point higher interest and an interest only period of five years. Nonetheless, the rate spread between sub-prime hybrid and sub-prime fixed is usually larger than the spread between A paper hybrid and A paper fixed. Where you might get the A paper thirty year fixed for one percent above the rate of a 5/1 ARM, the difference between a 3/27 and a 30 year fixed is usually closer to two percent (this is by recent standards. When I initially bought in 1991, I was offered a choice between 5.75 percent 5/1 and 11 percent 30 year fixed)

I tend to like the five year fixed for myself and my A paper clients. It saves a lot in interest, and you've got five years where nothing can change, which is a longer period than most folks go without refinancing, and it's usually only about an eighth percent or so more expensive, interest wise, than the 3/1 while being a quarter percent or so cheaper than a 7/1. For the sub-prime clients, I tend to prefer the 2/28 if I think they'll be A paper at the end of two years, the 5/25 if not and if I can find it (3/27 if I can't). Of course, if you really want to pay the higher rates for a long term fixed rate loan, I may believe you're wasting money, but it's your money to waste, and you're the one making the payments.

Two final types worth covering are the HELOC ("he-lock"), or Home Equity Line Of Credit, and HEL ("heal"), or Home equity Loan. They are usually used as Second Trust Deeds, the second loan on a property. A HELOC is a variable rate interest loan, usually prime plus a margin, and there is often an interest only period. It is a line of credit, and so long as you stay within your credit limit, the initial underwriting covers it. Nobody does fixed rate HELOCs; what they do when you "fix the rate" is fix that part of it you've already taken out and lower the maximum available credit. HELOCs have two phases, a draw period, when you can take more out (up to the approved limit), and a repayment period, when you're repaying what you took. Most folks end up selling or refinancing, however. Home Equity Loans are one time, fixed rate loans. I've seen all sorts, but the most common is a 30 year amortization with a 15 year balloon, although the twenty year fixed is almost as common. You need to refinance, sell, or pay the loan off prior to the end of fifteen years, lest the lender call the note.

Caveat Emptor

Real Estate Boycotts

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I simply love: "Fear and Greed, or How Did the Housing Bubble Get so big?

I'm not sure if you are aware that there is a grass-roots group that is starting a "boycott on housing." They feel that the prices in the San Francisco Bay Area are unreasonable.

It's kind of interesting.

The website is at: http://www.boycotthousing.com/home.aspx

What do you think about websites like this? Do you think that something like this is "catch on?" I submitted my vote (I'm currently boycotting myself until my six figure downpayments actually matters in this wacky market). But I was just wondering what your thoughts would be on this issue.

Can boycotters make a difference in the "real estate" game?

I'm outraged at the high cost of food. Do you think me boycotting buying food will have an effect?

Well, if enough of us did, it would have a marginal effect for a while. But people have to have food to live, and creating all of your own food yourself is just not an option for most folks. This leaves your choices as supermarket or starve. Given those choices, I'll take the supermarket (much as a couple weeks without food might benefit my waistline)

The same goes with housing. I went and poked around that site, and just couldn't find any evidence of knowledge of the laws of economics. The only effect that boycotters will have is to marginally reduce demand, thereby slightly reducing prices for those who are buying, for which my clients surely thank you. If you couldn't afford to buy anyway, it makes zero difference. If it makes sense for you to buy but you choose not to, then you are hurting no one except yourself. If you want to do something real about the high cost of housing, you'd do better to read my article on The Economics of Housing Development and act accordingly.

There are circumstances where I straightforwardly recommend against buying. Right now, given the state of the market, those are a lot of circumstances. I could have made a lot more money than I have these last eighteen months had I been a shark. But the recommendation to buy or not to buy is always based upon individual circumstances balanced against the state of the market.

The clients I'm pursuing right now are those who are looking for a place they can be happy in for the next ten years. Speculators, Flippers, and other players of real estate roulette have mostly gotten the message and dropped out of the market anyway. Given past performance and the approximate size of the bubble (roughly 30 percent at peak in San Diego, in my estimation, which has since deflated by about 20 percent), the speculators who are left are like participants in a game of musical chairs who don't yet realize that the music has stopped. On the other hand, those who need a place to live and can afford it will do very well once prices recover in a few years. I know this from personal experience; I was one of those folks who bought near the peak of the last cycle. Furthermore, with the desperation of many sellers, the bargaining is highly favorable to my buyer clients right now.

There are also significant and increasing opportunities in distressed properties, providing you've got some cash and are willing to buy and hold for a while, or do some significant work. Distressed properties are not a game for the weak of wallet, because you've got to have a certain amount of cash to play the game decently. Given the state of the market, it's very possible to lose significant money even there, mostly if you're a do-nothing flipper. If you're a buy-and-holder or a fixer upper, there are still places for you to do very well in this market segment.

The third group of clients I'm seeking out is those who were taken advantage of by their agents and/or loan officers, to see if I can fix the situation with a new loan. These are folks who were sold on unstable or unsustainable loans in order to get into the property. I'm not an altruist by any means, I'm getting paid for my work, but that doesn't alter the fact that the client wins also, by being put into a better situation if it can be done. If it can't, I am set up to handle a distress sale to get them out of the situation before it gets worse. I'm not a magician who can make it never happen (and nobody else is, either!), but I can stop the green bleeding. Once the bleeding is stopped, then you can talk about getting some money back for having been the target of a Dastardly Deed™, but those sorts of solutions take years. If you try to get your pound of flesh first, you'll bleed to death long before you might possibly get it, with all kinds of unpleasant consequences.

To summarize, housing is a necessary good, one third of the basic "food, clothing, shelter" that everyone is familiar with. This creates a "need" as opposed to a "want". Mind you, many folks have wants bigger than their needs (and eyes bigger than their pocketbooks), but some market segment boycotting housing will hurt only themselves as rents get higher so that the landlords can feed the loan alligator. High demand is not going away. If you really want to make housing more affordable, start doing something about the low supply of new housing. Artificial scarcity benefits only those who are already owners, and that includes the flippers and speculators who are probably the largest part of the reason for the current bubble.

Caveat Emptor

Appraisal Fraud

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I enjoyed finding your blog today. It was enlightening, particularly in the area of real estate appraisals.

Mortgage fraud is something I've been reading about lately. Since the FBI says 80% of it involves collusion and usually with the appraiser, it made me wonder why underwriters don't just ask for second appraisals when a loan looks like it could be part of a flipping scheme (e.g., the owner hasn't had it for long and the new appraisal has it coming in much higher than the last one).

Have you looked at this area at all? I'd be interested in your point of view.

Appraisal Fraud is more of a problem than it was. A couple of years ago, the appraisal was treated and regarded differently than it is now. On the one hand, appraisers were regarded as gods sitting in judgment of a property, which never was true. They're human, subject to human foibles and tendencies. On the other hand, it has perhaps swung a too far in the opposite direction, with many appraisers doing whatever the loan provider wants in order to continue to attract business.

A good balance is somewhere in between. Appraisers don't want to work any harder than necessary, of course, but they've got to remember that they are, first and foremost, business folk selling a service. I agree with the law that says minimum appraisals are prohibited, as it protects everyone. On the other hand, when I ask an appraiser to reconfirm if comparables don't support a value of $X, what I'm trying to do is protect my client. This gives me a chance to re-work the loan, or re-open negotiations with the seller, before my client has wasted hundreds of dollars for an appraisal that doesn't help. Eighty to ninety percent of the time, the appraiser who tells me the value isn't there gets paid anyway, because I can re-work the loan or renegotiate the deal to the point where everybody's happy and the transaction proceeds. If the appraiser just goes out, takes the check, and drops an appraisal that's $20,000 low on my client, I have a screaming mad client on my hands who is poison to my business because in their eyes I was the one who "tricked" this money out of them, and perhaps a seller and seller's agent who are angry as well because I hired an "incompetent" appraiser, with repercussions next time I write an offer for one of my clients, and nobody is happy, least of all me.

On the other hand, an appraiser who is willing to manipulate the data to come up with value no matter what is one I want to stay away from, and it's because of fraud. If there's no default and the loan gets paid back in full, appraiser fraud doesn't matter. But that's not the usual thing that happens with appraiser fraud.

I keep writing that a certain percentage of all attempted real estate transactions are fraudulent, and a good agent and especially a good loan officer keeps their eyes peeled for evidence. Real Estate transactions are very large dollar amounts. A one bedroom condo around here goes for over $200,000. This is more than most families make in a couple of years. An average single family residence might be $500,000 or more. This makes the temptation level considerable, and there are always folks around who have an eye for the quick easy dollar and never mind the effects on others or the prospects of prison if caught. Sometimes the lender is the intended mark, sometimes the other party to the transaction. I could tell you about all varieties of scams, but appraisal fraud is one of the most common.

Before we go any further, let's examine what an appraisal is. Accountants value goods using a method called "Lesser of Cost or Market," or LCM for short. This means a given property is valued for accounting purposes at either the purchase price (cost) or appraised value (market), whichever is lower. But this has been modified from its original form for real estate lending purposes, because in the real world real estate appreciates in value. At purchase, the cost or value argument still applies. No matter what, the lender will not lend based upon a value greater than the purchase price. Later on, however, they will, because land does not depreciate, it does not in general vanish or get used up, and it does increase in value (Pretty much universally over time frames of a decade or more).

This gives scam artists all the leeway they need. Some of them are relatively harmless, in that all they're looking for is a better rate on a loan that they do intend to repay. This doesn't mean it's smart to cooperate with them, as many agents and loan officers who did are likely to discover quite soon, as the loans default and the lender investigates why. The balance sheet reads a little differently when you discover that cooperating with the guy who just wanted to cut a few corners is going to cost you your license.

Appraisal fraud, however, is usually aimed at a large quick score. I'm going to keep my examples basic, lest I inadvertently release a couple more ideas into the wild. Let's say you own a property that's worth (pinky finger extended) one million dollars. You owe $900,000. If you sell, you're going to net about $30,000. But if you can persuade a buyer that property values are increasing much faster than they are, many will bite off on an increased sales price. You tell the appraiser "Appraise it for $1,250,000 and it's worth $25,000 to you!" He does so. You pay him his $25,000 and your net is still around $235,000 to $240,000. It's fraud, but fraud that many folks have gotten away with because the buyer doesn't realize he's been had and keeps paying the bank. Or you can't keep up the payments but want to walk away with as much cash as possible. Instead of a distress sale, where you'd be very lucky to break even with a sharp buyer's agent, you pay the appraiser $25,000 to appraise it at $1.25 million, refinance for cash out to maybe 90 percent of that value, pay the appraiser and walk away with a cool $200k, never making a single payment on the new loan.

Appraisal fraud can also be intentionally low. A buyer wants to buy the property, pays the appraiser to appraise it low, and renegotiates the price. I had this tried on me about two years ago. It didn't work.

Now once upon a time, there were real constraints to keep an appraiser from pulling this, on residential properties at least. To a certain extent, there still are but those guidelines have been relaxed due to the hypercompetitive market we've had the last few years. For instance, it used to be that the lenders would accept a value for a property on a refinance no higher than an annualized increase of 10 percent for the first couple years. That's gone by the wayside, as lenders get used to the fact that values are increasing faster than that. With many lenders, it's whatever the appraiser says the day after the sale. This is an invitation to fraud. Invitations to fraud do not excuse fraud, but they certainly make it easier. It used to be that no matter what, you couldn't pull cash for six months after a sale. That's now changed.

Underwriting in many lenders no longer has to pass a "smell test," where the lender pulls up the local market and sees what similar properties have really sold for recently. They're competing for loans! First time they tell the folks "no" that loan officer may not give them any more chances to do loans, choosing instead other lenders with more accommodating employees and policies. They have to do loans to stay in business, and avoid layoffs, but those lenders with more accommodating employees and policies are going to be in a world of hurt if the local market cools much further.

Now appraisers that do this are subject to discipline and legal penalties, starting with the fact that the lender has the option of never accepting one of their appraisals again and going up through loss of license and jail time. I'm not up on the penalty structure, but fraud that costs in excess of $100,000 is a serious felony. They've got the appraiser's name, license number, and other identifying information. In my opinion, aiding and abetting fraud is stupid and if you can't get them to fly straight, walking away as quickly as possible is your best option, but real estate compensations (and the amounts at stake) are large enough that many will do it. If you're not a pro yourself, your best protection is a good agent that's working for you, not splitting loyalty between both sides of the transaction, and making sure somebody working for you is there at the property to meet the appraiser.

Caveat Emptor

pfadvice talks about debunking a money myth and perpetuates one of his own. He took issue with someone refinancing to lower their monthly payment, insisting instead that the term of the loan was all important.



His point is understandable in that because folks tend to buy more house than they can really afford, they also tend to obsess about that monthly payment. The solution to this is simple to describe but it takes someone with more savvy and willpower than most to bring it off: don't buy more house than you can afford.



Actually, there is nothing that is all important, but if I had to pick one thing as most important, it would be the tradeoff between interest rate and cost and type of loan. This is always a tradeoff. They're not going to give you a thirty year fixed rate loan a full percent below par for the same price as loan that's adjustable on monthly basis right from the get-go.



If you have a long history of keeping every mortgage loan you take out five years, ten years, or longer, then perhaps it might make sense for you to take out a thirty year fixed rate loan and pay some points. To illustrate, I'm going to pull a table out of an old article of mine because I'm too lazy to do a new one.







rate

5.625

5.750

5.875

6.000

6.125

6.250

6.375

6.500

6.625

6.750

6.875

7.000
discount/rebate

1.750

1.250

0.625

0.250

-0.250

-0.750

-1.250

-1.500

-2.000

-2.250

-2.500

-3.250

cost

$4725.00

$3375.00

$1687.50

$675.00

-$675.00

-$2025.00

-$3375.00

-$4050.00

-$5400.00

-$6075.00

-$6750.00

-$8775.00




Now I'm intentionally using an old table, and rates are higher now. I'm assuming no prepayment penalties, and the third column is cost of discount points (if positive) or how much money you would have gotten in rebate (if negative), assuming the $270,000 loan I usually use by default. Add this to normal closing costs of about $3400 to arrive at the cost of your loan, thus:



(I had to break this table into two parts to get it to display correctly)







Rate

5.625

5.75

5.875

6

6.125

6.25

6.375

6.5

6.625

6.75

6.875

7
Points/Rebate

$4,725.00

$3,375.00

$1,687.50

$675.00

($675.00)

($2,025.00)

($3,375.00)

($4,050.00)

($5,400.00)

($6,075.00)

($6,750.00)

($8,775.00)
Total cost

$8,125.00

$6,775.00

$5,087.50

$4,075.00

$2,725.00

$1,375.00

$25.00

($650.00)

($2,000.00)

($2,675.00)

($3,350.00)

($5,375.00)
New Balance

$278,125.00

$276,775.00

$275,087.50

$274,075.00

$272,725.00

$271,375.00

$270,025.00

$270,000.00

$270,000.00

$270,000.00

$270,000.00

$270,000.00
Payment

$1,601.04

$1,615.18

$1,627.25

$1,643.22

$1,657.11

$1,670.90

$1,684.60

$1,706.58

$1,728.84

$1,751.21

$1,773.71

$1,796.32













rate

5.625

5.750

5.875

6.000

6.125

6.250

6.375

6.500

6.625

6.750

6.875

7.000
New Balance

$278,125.00

$276,775.00

$275,087.50

$274,075.00

$272,725.00

$271,375.00

$270,025.00

$270,000.00

$270,000.00

$270,000.00

$270,000.00

$270,000.00
Interest*

$1,303.71

$1,326.21

$1,346.78

$1,370.38

$1,392.03

$1,413.41

$1,434.51

$1,462.50

$1,490.63

$1,518.75

$1,546.88

$1,575.00
$saved/month

$130.80

$108.29

$87.73

$64.13

$42.47

$21.10

$0.00

($27.99)

($56.12)

($84.24)

($112.37)

($140.49)
break even

62.11922112

62.5610196

57.99355825

63.54001705

64.15695892

65.17713862

0

0

0

0

0

0






Now, I've modified the results based upon some real world considerations. Point of fact, it's rare to actually get the rebate (typically, the loan provider will pocket anything above what pays your costs), and so I've zeroed out those costs. You take a higher rate, you're just out the extra monthly interest. The fourth column is your new balance, the fifth is your monthly payment. For the second table, I've duplicated rate and new balance for the first two columns, the third is your first month's interest charge (note that this will decrease in subsequent months), the fourth is how much you save per month by having this rate, and the fifth and final column is how long in months it will take you to recover your closing cost via your interest savings as opposed to the cost of the 6.375% loan, which cost a grand total of $25 (actually, this number will be slightly high, as interest savings will increase slowly, as lower rate loans pay more principle in early years).



However, let's look at it as if your current interest rate is 7 percent. Your monthly cost of interest is $1575, there, so let's see how long it takes to actually come out ahead with these various loans.





Rate

5.625

5.75

5.875

6

6.125

6.25

6.375

6.5

6.625

6.75

6.875

7

Loan Cost

$8,125.00

$6,775.00

$5,087.50

$4,075.00

$2,725.00

$1,375.00

$25.00

$0.00

$0.00

$0.00

$0.00

$0.00

New Loan

$278,125.00

$276,775.00

$275,087.50

$274,075.00

$272,725.00

$271,375.00

$270,025.00

$270,000.00

$270,000.00

$270,000.00

$270,000.00

$270,000.00

Saved/month

$271.29

$248.79

$228.22

$204.63

$182.97

$161.59

$140.49

$112.50

$84.38

$56.25

$28.13

$0.00

Breakeven

29.94960403

27.23218959

22.29233587

19.9144777

14.89346561

8.50926672

0.177945838

0

0

0

0

0



In short, since you're recovering costs quickly, it would make sense for folks with a rate of 7 percent to refinance in this situation, no matter how long they have left on their loan. For $25, they can move their interest rate down to 6.375, saving them $140 plus change per month. It's very hard to make an argument that that's not worthwhile. On the other hand, I would have been somewhat leery of choosing the 5.625% loan, as more than fifty percent of everyone has refinanced or sold within two years. On the other hand, I have a solid history of going five years between refinancing, so it makes a certain amount of sense, considered in a vacuum. Considered in light of the real world, rates fluctuate up and down. So I tend to believe that if I don't pay very much for my rate, I'm likely to encounter a situation within a few years where I can move to a lower rate for zero, or almost zero, whereas if I paid the $8125 for the 5.625%, rates would really have to fall a lot before I can improve my situation.



Do not make the mistake of thinking that the remaining term of the loan is more important than it is. You now have (assuming you took the 6.375% loan) $140 more per month in your pocket. It's up to you how you want to spend it. If you want to spend it paying down your loan more quickly, you can do that (providing you don't trigger a prepayment penalty, of course!). Let's say you were two years into your previous loan. Your monthly payment was $1835.00. If you keep making that payment, you'll be done in 288 months; 48 months or 4 full years earlier than you would have been done. So long as you don't trigger the prepayment penalty, you can always pay your loan down faster. Just write the check for the extra dollars and tell the lender that it's extra principal you're paying. I haven't made a minimum payment since the first time I refinanced!



Now some folks focus in on the minimum payment. By doing this, you make the lenders very happy, and likely your credit card companies as well. Not to mention that you are meat on the table for every unethical loan provider out there. It is critical to have a payment that you can afford to make every month, and make on time. But once you have that detail taken care of, look at your interest charges and how long you're likely to keep the loan, not the minimum payment.



Caveat Emptor.

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I had the idea for this article some time ago. It took me a long time to decide to share it publicly, because quite frankly, knowing what I know now, I was an idiot. I was still young enough to think I knew more than I did. Now that I've learned a lot more, I still don't know what I thought I knew then, but I'm getting closer. When I repeat transactions of this nature now, I don't repeat these completely boneheaded mistakes.

The year was 1990, and I was still working for the federal government in my first career, air traffic control. Controllers are not your most humble of people, and for better reasons than most. Most days, I could go home secure in the knowledge that without me there, a couple of airplanes would have crashed together, and even if everyone walked away from it, however unlikely that was, there would have been anywhere from a couple hundred thousand dollars in damage to millions. But, as you're about to see, this has nothing to do with competence in real estate.

Before I go any further, let me tell you that things could have been much worse than they ended up being. I understood a lot of things about real estate and finance, even then. Even then, I knew enough to know how simply full of excrement most of the people claiming do it yourself real estate was the way to go were. Ignorant. Guilty of wishful thinking. Neglecting terms in mathematical equations. Just plain wrong.

I simply thought I was better than that. At the time, I thought I did pretty well. But in retrospect, boy did I get taught a lesson by a pro.

Let me tell you what the problems weren't. It wasn't that I didn't understand how to check out a property. I grew up a contractor's son. From the time I was old enough to wield a paintbrush with a modicum of control, I was helping my dad on his projects. Some of my earliest memories are of helping my dad mix and pour concrete. You name the project, I've pretty much done it. I learned how to spot construction defects, problems, and things that needed to be fixed before I figured out that girls didn't have cooties. I have an excellent idea of what's involved in fixing most of them, much better than you get by watching any of those home repair or decorating programs. Furthermore, I had my dad with me to help me spot potential problems.

I did pretty darned good on the loan. Through both intentional and accidental learning (i.e. formal classes and having friends and co-workers older than I was, and listening to the problems they had had), I had a pretty good understanding of the pitfalls there. I knew what the options to compare were, and I knew why a 5/1 ARM is better than even a 7 year balloon, and how both compare to 30 and 15 year fixed rate loans. Through the financial markets, I understood that there was a tradeoff between rate and cost. I could have maybe shopped it a bit more, and probably should have taken a less expensive loan, but the higher cost for the lower rate worked out in my case.

(Amazing that for all the "do it yourself without an agent" advocates out there, I've never encountered a single person encouraging you to be your own loan broker, despite the fact that I can get a newly licensed person up to speed on common loans a lot more quickly and easily than I can teach them the rest of what they need to know to act as an agent)

My problems wasn't location, or lack of knowledge of the area. I bought less than three miles from my mom's house, about four from my dad's. I had been on that street at least dozens of times prior to buying that property. I knew the area cold, and I love the area even today.

It wasn't a failure to shop, or not knowing what would do well upon resale. I did my homework, and looked at a dozen properties before I made my offer. It certainly wasn't failing to do research, on the internet or elsewhere. I read several books that are still well-regarded today. Yes, this was before the World Wide Web, but newsgroups and forums existed back then, and were easy to access, and I always had a good internet connection. It's become easier to use the internet since then, but the signal to noise ratio has gotten considerably worse. Not that it was stellar in the first place, but I find more spectacularly wrong "information" out there now with an agenda of selling some thing or idea in particular, than I did then. At least in the newsgroups, you could always count upon having opposing points of view. Just surfing the world wide web, you're at the mercy of the publisher of that particular website if you don't know any better.

Now here's what the problem was: My ignorance. Ignorance of the market, ignorance of procedures, ignorance of what everything meant and the implications thereof.

Let's be honest. It could have been much worse than it was, even with everything else covered.

What I was paying attention to was asking price, not comparable sales. Furthermore, since I hadn't been in any of those comparable sales, I didn't have the basis for a valid comparison and pricing. That listing agent did. Furthermore, the local real estate market at that time was getting ready to fall, much like things were in much of 2006. Sellers were just starting to realize things were not likely to fall their way in the future. A good first offer would have been $10,000 less than I offered, then negotiate hard, and settle on maybe $8000 less than I actually paid. Considering prices were much lower then (still under $100,000!), I overpaid by about 10%, and there were enough properties on the market, and few enough buyers, that if they hadn't been willing to negotiate, I could have walked away and found something just as good for about that price in the exact same area.

It gets worse. Because I didn't know what local procedures were, I ended up paying just under $3000, more than a buyer's agent would have made, in various fees that were really the seller's responsibility. Not to mention using the wrong escrow and title company.

All told, my ignorance cost me somewhere between ten and fourteen thousand dollars, out of a purchase price significantly under $100,000, and it could have been much worse. There were no issues with title of construction defects or anything else. This meant ten to fourteen thousand dollars more to pay interest on. Rates then were higher than most people have since become accustomed to (The seller was proud of the fact they had an assumable loan at 10%). I can do a better loan cheaper today on a thirty year fixed rate basis than was available on a 5/1 ARM back then. On top of that, it made the difference between not needing PMI on my loan and PMI being required, at about $80 per month in addition to the extra interest. PMI used to be much more expensive than it is now, also, and the whole piggyback loan thing was not yet a real option.

Lest you not understand, the listing agent was doing nothing other than her job with all of this. She was responsible for getting the best possible deal for her seller. If a sucker swam into the net, so much the better. I understand this now. I didn't then.

One more thing that may not be clear to the average reader: Most real estate transactions doesn't get dissected like this, in retrospect by someone who is now a trained professional with lessons to learn from it. Most people never realize how much they've been taken for, and I did a lot of things right that most people working on their own behalf don't.

Why did I make this mistake? I was in, "I don't want to deal with sales people!" mode, even though that's precisely what I was doing, and even if it had been "For Sale By Owner," that doesn't magically change the fact that the person who wants to sell it has become a sales person by that act. I was so focused on "not wasting money with a commission," that I rationalized doing one of the biggest transactions of my life without expert help. Even if I had ended up paying the buyer's agent commission out of my own pocket (I wouldn't have) that would have been at most a quarter of what not having one cost me, and it could have been much worse. Even so, I rationalized my way into completely wasting four to five times the amount I would have spent. The difference between 99 percent of the "do it yourself" crowd out there and me, is that I have subsequently looked at what happened with more experienced and educated eyes, even though what I have now learned makes me want to hide my face in embarrassment.

I could pretend it came out better than it did. This was before I was married, and the only person who was hurt by this was me, and my wife wasn't there, so she doesn't know enough to keep reminding me about what a loser I was (not that she would). But that wouldn't help me not to make the same mistake again. I can have my ego and false illusion of invincibility, of thinking "I'm da MAN!", or I can face my mistakes, learn from what I did wrong, and not make those same mistakes again. I know which bodes better for my financial future, and that of my family. I've decided I can take the ego hit more easily than I can take repeating the same mistakes next time, let alone for one of my clients. I've since acquired one of the most valuable skills anyone can have: The ability to assess when you're beyond your level of competence. I've done a lot of loans since then, and a not insignificant number of real estate transactions, and I keep learning new things with most of them. The largest difference between me, now, and me, then, is that I've learned a lot more about the problems with believing you know something that is not, in fact, true, and how to investigate and research and just plain ask other professionals who have previously dealt with a given issue. This knowledge and experience and skill doesn't come at a price most people consider "cheap". But it will save most likely save you several times what it costs. Offer most people the choice between spending a flat $1000 or a ninety percent probability of being forced to spend between $4000 to $5000, and the rational, logical choice is obvious. It's the cheapest insurance you will ever buy, in terms of real cost to expected benefit - you're getting several times the expected value in return. Now consider that with property values several times higher than that now, the amounts at stake locally are ten times that or more.

Caveat Emptor

Just got another one of those desperate consumer fishing calls.

First off, she said she had to have an Option ARM. I told her I had them available to me, but...

She interrupted me to say she had to have it Stated Income, or if necessary, no documentation. Yes, I told her, even those are still available, but...

She interrupted me again, wanting to know if they were no points and no prepayment penalty. I said that while I hadn't done a loan with a prepayment penalty in years, Option ARMS without prepayment penalties don't exist. She then said, "We've come to the end of the conversation," and hung up.

Obviously, she's been burned by someone. Just as obviously, someone else gave her a shopping checklist for a loan, or she made it up herself. She wants it all, she's not going to settle until she gets it, and she's not going to let some horrible awful salesperson lead her astray like last time. In fact, she's so determined on this point that she's not going to let anyone try to save her, either.

As regular readers have no doubt figured out by now, here's her history. She didn't tell me this, but It doesn't take much if you understand the way the market has gone these past few years.

She either bought a property more expensive than she could really afford, or refinanced a property she already owned, and could not afford to buy now, for cash out. Not understanding that minimum payment is not the same thing as the cost of the money, and that you should Never Choose A Loan (or a House) Based Upon Payment, she signed upon the dotted line, not really understanding anything that was going on except that she wanted that house, or that cash.

Along she went, happy as a clam, until she got smacked upside the head with the real cost of money, aka the interest rate she was paying. Gravity never quits, and compound interest working against you is even worse than that.

And here's where it gets really sad. Instead of figuring out her mistake, or cutting her losses, she is determined to repeat the mistake. So determined that she's not going to let anyone stop the process before it gets even worse than it is today, however bad that is. She didn't mention anything about loan to value ratio, but I'll bet it was higher than the 80% that's the most anyone will do one of those stated income now (if debt to income ratio wasn't outside of any acceptable range there would have been better loans to do in the first place). What's the definition of insanity again?

The loan she wants is not going to happen. But that won't stop people from telling her that they can do it, figuring once they get an application and psychological investment, not to mention hundreds of dollars of her cash, then they come up with something else at final loan signing, chances are that she'll sign it and they'll get paid. I went over this just a few days ago. The loan they'll get her probably won't be as bad as what she wants, but it's unlikely to do her any good. She owes what she owes. If she could afford the loan, she wouldn't need stated income or negative amortization, and she probably wouldn't have needed them in the first place.

Furthermore, she's shopping her loan from a checklist of things somebody told her were good or bad, completely ignorant of the fact that she can't have them all. There's a reason I tell people they need to ask all the questions on this list from a prospective loan provider. It's not a simple matter of shopping your loan until you get everything on a shopping list. Some things do not go together at all, like negative amortization loans without a prepayment penalty. In all cases, there are tradeoffs between A and B, C and D. You decide which you want more, or which you don't want more, or, in the case of points and cost vs. rate, where on the spectrum of the tradeoff between rate and cost you want to be. Some providers may give you a better set of tradeoffs than others, but those tradeoffs still exist, and pretending they don't is a good way to end up with a putrid loan. Somebody will tell you about a loan that doesn't exist in order to get you to sign up with them.

Before you can ask the questions, however, you've got to let a professional have a reasonable chance at figuring out the best loan for your situation. In order to do that, you've got tell them enough information so they know what your situation is. Then you can ask those questions and give me the third degree, and if you're smart, you're going to shop it around until you get a couple or three different opinions, and cross check the information each provides against the other. You might still get conned, especially if you don't make the effort of comparing and cross-checking answers. But as I went over in The Ultimate Consumer Horror Story, if you won't talk to sales persons, as in real conversations, I can pretty much guarantee you're coming away with your own private version of the Nightmare (mortgage) on Elm Street.

Caveat Emptor

Just got another in a long series of emails about this horrid product: (identifying details redacted)

Learn How To Make More Money Per Client ($500-$1000)

In This Workshop You Will Learn Why The Most Successful Mortgage & Real Estate Professionals Across The Country Partnering With DELETED?

To Maximize their Income

To Gain and instill Loyalty with current and past clientele

To Exponentially amplify their business success

A Win/Win decision that will impact your business and your client's lives

Because the Demand for Mortgage Protection Insurance is exploding across the country

You notice how "helping your clients" is nowhere on the list of benefits?

Here's another ad of theirs I found online, in the help wanted section:

DELETED is now looking for former Account Executives of Direct Mortgage Lenders, former Account Executives for Title companies & Current Life insurance salespeople that are licensed. DELETED Insurance is offering a new way for Mortgage companies to add an additional revenue stream to their company. We are offering Mortgage protection to them to sell to their clients. You will be responsible of managing your pipeline and territory management. This position is 100% commission. We offer the highest commission splits in the business. First year earning potential can be a 6 figure income. There is also opportunity for you to become an area sales manager in your area. If you are familiar with Mortgage protection insurance or Mortgages, you will know why mortgage professionals will say yes to this product.

Notice how they say they'll take currently licensed people, but those are not the candidates they're really looking for? There's a reason for that. People who have been around the insurance business know about this market sector's history of abuse, and how it always seems to be the sales people who take the fall when the regulators shut it down, while the higher ups walk because they "have it right here in writing that we told those people what they were doing was illegal," while winking at anything that brings in more sales, if not actually encouraging it - just not in writing.

and one more ad, on lendertalk

I am offering Mortgage companies to sell mortgage protection insurance.

Here now simple it is to sell.

1. get your lifie insurance license (sic)
2. sell to past and exsisting clients (sic)
3. Earn 80% of the total commission
4. wrap the first year premium into the loan (emphasis mine)
5. Never have to meet the client
6. everything is done at the time of close
7. Recieve check 72 hours after closing (sic)

average commission is $650

Look forward to speaking with you on this.


At purchase, you can't really put the premium into the mortgage. The only way to do so is fraud. You're either paying for it in cash, or you're paying for it by effectively decreasing your down payment. You cannot do it in conjunction with 100% financing, unless the seller is paying, and I wouldn't want my clients doing so. At refinance, it's at least a possibility. But does a sane financial planner want you increasing your mortgage by about $1000, paying interest on it and possibly kicking the loan over into the next higher Loan to Value category (thereby effectively raising the rate on the whole loan) so that you can purchase the most awful policy of life insurance going? Additionally, many states have rules on buying insurance with borrowed money, and agents knowingly accepting such. California is one of these. This entire pitch element would appear soliciting someone to break the law, perhaps in multiple particulars. Experienced agents know this - newly licensed ones may not.

In order to understand what's going on with this product, you have to understand what Mortgage Protection Insurance is and what it is not. First, what it is not: It is not Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI). Private Mortgage Insurance is an insurance policy that insures the lender against loss, which you pay for as long as you require it. Private Mortgage Insurance can be a required item in getting a certain loan, and as much as I detest it, for loans above 90% of the value of the property, it's the only real alternative as of this writing, for reasons I go into in 100% Financing or Low Down Payment or Low Equity: PMI May Be The Only Option.

Mortgage Protection Insurance is a decreasing term life insurance policy, which is supposed to pay the lender off directly in the event of your demise. It is not required by any lender. If lenders were going to require some insurance policy, they'd require disability insurance, which is needed three times more often than life insurance, with worse longer term consequences for loan viability. Lenders do not waive requirements or fees for Impound Accounts because you buy Mortgage Protection Insurance. As I said, disability is a far more common cause of lender losses than life insurance. But I got email from someone in California who was told that by a loan officer who wanted to sell Mortgage Protection Insurance (FYI, in California it is a prohibited practice to require an Impound Account, or to charge a higher fee for not having one. Yes, this means that we all pay for it with a slightly higher rate/cost tradeoff. But we all have to live within the law, and my point is that purchasing Mortgage Protection Insurance makes no difference to the impound account, despite what this person was told).

This is a very lucrative field as far as making money goes, as you can see not only from the advertisements above but also a on-line search. The ability of practitioners and sales persons to make money is not an indication that a product is bad, but it is a sign of potential abuse. Any time you have the potential for a lot of money by cutting not very many corners, it's a warning sign that says in no uncertain terms to be careful.

The first real objection I have to this product is that decreasing term life insurance is probably the worst life insurance policy that it's possible to buy, and I'm telling you this from the point of view of someone who wants life insurance and can't get it on any kind of reasonable terms (This is not an invitation to a solicitation. I tried very hard to get life insurance on reasonable terms when I was licensed, because I understand what a good investment it can be). First off, it's term life insurance, with all the issues inherent in term insurance: rising cost of insurance, no use of tax advantages, likelihood of voluntary cancellation, likelihood of wasting every single penny you pay. Now add the fact that as your overall cost of insurance goes up, your coverage goes down. It doesn't take any kind of genius to tell you that increasing revenue for decreasing liability is an insurance company's dream scenario, while not being nearly so wonderful from the consumer's point of view. At some point before the insurance company's risk of (decreasing!) payout becomes significant, actuarially speaking, the vast majority of consumers simply cancel. Their premium tables are calculated to encourage this.

Next to consider, we have health considerations. Entropy hits us all. More and more health conditions start happening as we get older. It's scary to think about, but right now is probably the best health you will be in for the remainder of your life, and you're buying a policy of life insurance where the benefits decrease in absolute terms when most people need them to at least stay constant, if not increase. Inflation isn't going to stop because you bought a policy of life insurance. Thirty years ago, $25,000 was a fairly serious policy. These days, most companies don't sell amounts that small, and the ones that do, charge much higher rates for such small policies. The more you understand about financial planning, the more you understand that your ability to profit from life insurance is likely to increase as you age, not decrease. But when you go to buy more later, because you've finally figured all this out, you find out (as I did) that now you've got health conditions that either disqualify you, or raise your rates outrageously. And you want to buy decreasing term insurance?

There are also estate tax considerations. The Congress of 2001 understood the need for estate tax reform, but in order to get the votes to pass it, the advocates had to accept a sunset date of December 31, 2010, after which time everything goes back to the way it was prior to the reform. The people who passed that legislation knew that Congress was going to have to revisit the issue before it expired. Unfortunately, here it is December of 2007, and the current Congress has made it plain they're not going to do anything, which wipes out the possibility of reform prior to the start of the next Congress in 2009, and if nothing happens to shake the current incumbents out of their state of lethargy during the next election, there we are at the sunset date with nothing happening, and the situation resets to where it was before 2001. Ouch. As I've said, I'd rather have AMT reform because estate tax is essentially voluntary, but most people seem to volunteer to pay estate tax, which is and remains the highest rate taxation in the country, and it has crushing implications. The value of a life insurance policy, unless you've done the work necessary to avoid volunteering for estate tax, is part of your taxable estate. In this case, your family will owe taxes on on it, and the lowest bracket is almost forty percent, just on the federal level. Lots of folks assumed that estate tax was going to be going away, as that was the obvious signal sent by the Congress back then, but that's looking less and less likely given the current Congress and the unlikelihood of change in the next one. Maybe it's just me, but I don't see any advantage to paying off the mortgage only to have my heirs forced to visit a loan shark in order to pay the taxes.

But the ultimate killer objection to this product is the fact that it's just plain a bad idea to take life insurance proceeds (that can be completely tax free if you take the steps) and pay them to anyone except your chosen beneficiary. I've gone over this before, in Mortgage Life and Disability Insurance. What your heirs can do with such money, prudently invested, completely shatters any consideration of taking the money and paying off the mortgage, which your heirs can nonetheless decide to do with any policy. Why in the world would you want to take that decision out of their hands with a policy that dedicates the benefit if you should die to that lender? You buy life insurance to benefit your family, not your mortgage lender! Even if you understand nothing about leverage and how it works, this just isn't good financial planning!

So if anyone tries to sell you this product, just say, "no thank you!" and indicate in no uncertain terms that you will not be purchasing this product, and if it's a requirement to get the loan done, you're going to go elsewhere to get your loan. I'm not saying life insurance isn't a good thing - in fact, I'm saying the exact opposite - but you don't want to buy this particular sub-species of policy.

Caveat Emptor

One of the worst things about the loan process, and indeed, found throughout the whole real estate industry, is the idea that if you can just delay telling the client about something they won't like, it's more likely they'll continue with the transaction anyway.

The horrifying thing from a consumer's perspective is that it works.

Hundreds of thousands, if not millions or tens of millions of people, become victims of this common psychological fallacy every year.

This makes use of the fact that longer something goes on, and the more they do towards it, the more heavily that people become psychologically invested in that particular goal, even to the point of obsession. This happens in other areas, too. For instance, whether you're for or against the Iraq War, you've probably noticed that as time goes on, and the more the other side of the debate does to further their position, the less they're likely to be disposed towards consideration of yours, the more shrill they get, and the more hardened in place their mental armor, regardless of the facts. I'm not writing this to take a side; I'm writing this to illustrate that this is something both sides have observed - accurately - about the other.

So what is the practical effect of this in the real estate world? The honest practitioner who tells you right away that something is wrong loses the business, while the shady character who pretends everything is proceeding right on course gets rewarded. If it's a loan, in neither case is the loan they initially talked about going to be delivered, but by pretending that it is until such time as the final papers are ready, the shady character still gets the business. The practitioner who tells you the truth, and tells it right away like they should, behaves like everyone says an ethical practitioner should behave, loses the business, while the crook who pretends nothing is wrong still gets paid, because when the final documents are submitted they're still not going to point out the differences - so if you don't spot them yourself, you're going to be unknowingly signing far different documents than the loan you initially agreed to. I've said this before, but in loans, it's good if they tell you about problems right away.

In the practice of buying and selling real estate, agents often face analogous situations. Leaving aside the fact that the listing agent is working for the seller and not the buyer, you need to understand that if a buyer's agent conceals bad information about a property until after the contingency period has passed, they've got a much higher probability of a sale, and therefore getting paid. A good agent will tell you about all the issues they see on every property as you go, while the agent you might wish on your worst enemy is enthusiastic about every property. The former is due diligence and properly discharging that fiduciary duty I keep writing about, trying to make certain the client understands what they're getting into because there is no such thing as a perfect property. The latter is about grabbing the easiest commission they can, as quickly as they can. A good buyer's agent will be present for all inspections if they can; a bad one is too worried about getting sued. A good buyer's agent wants that inspection and appraisal and title report done the instant the purchase contract is fully executed, if possible, and goes over them with you. A bad one delays ordering them, and mails or hands them to you without comment. There is a seventeen day contingency period for loans and inspections on the default contract; if anything is concealed longer than that without there being an obvious reason why it couldn't have been discovered until that moment, you have been the victim of such a practice. It isn't like them not telling you means the property doesn't have that problem; it only means you don't know about it yet. If you buy the property in ignorance of a defect, though, it will still be present and you'll still have to deal with it - and without any help from the current owner who has gone their merry way with your money.

I get emails every week from people who have been burned by both of these, and there isn't a way to fix it retroactively, and I only have a few thousand regular readers. This stuff happens all the time, and quite often, people don't even realize it has happened to them. So how do you defend yourself from this situation, knowing that this is where the incentives lie?

For loans, ask questions, ask for Loan Quote Guarantees that mean something, and apply for a back up loan. Be forgiving if your loan person tells you about a difference between their quote and the final numbers right away, particularly if they tell you why. Most important of all, read your final closing documents carefully. Until then, they can pretend that everything is all sweetness and light, and the crooks do.

For property, it's a little bit harder and starts earlier, when you're looking for a buyer's agent. Go out looking with several, and keep looking at least until you find one that tells you bad things about every property as a matter of course. There really is no such thing as a perfect property. Never use the listing agent as your buyer's representative, as they have an obligation to get it sold, for the highest possible price, and telling you the whole truth isn't conducive to that. Always shop by purchase price, never by payment, which varies with loan rates anyway. And most importantly, go over those reports yourself. Be there for the inspections and appraisal, and go over all of those and the title report as well. Above all, make certain you never sign anything without a full understanding of what it says. Many times, critical disclosures get hidden among trivial stuff that happens with every purchase, so they can catch you off guard.

Real estate transactions are for a lot of money, and people in the professions do get paid thousands of dollars per transaction. Nonetheless, trying to save yourself commission costs is far more likely to cost you more money than it is to save it. But with such large amounts at stake, you want to take precautions against being sold a fairy tale that has no chance of actually ending up with happily ever after. The real world is what it is, whether or not they tell you about it. If someone made an honest mistake about something, the sooner they tell you about it, the more likely it is they are honest. If they delay telling you, all by itself that's a stronger indictment of their ethics and practices than anything a grand jury can do.

Caveat Emptor

One of the things I'm seeing more of in MLS listings and developer advertising, among other places, is the phrase "$X in closing cost credit (or "$X in free builder upgrades" given for using preferred lender"

Sounds like a bargain, right? Just use their lender and you get this multi-thousand dollar credit. After all, "All Mortgage Money Comes From The Same Place!" Free money, right?

Well possibly, but not very likely. What most companies are looking to do with this advertising is give people a reason not to shop around. They hope that because most people think that "All Mortgage Money Comes From The Same Place", the average customer will just stay there to apply for a loan. Many builders and conversion companies will throw roadblocks in your way if you try to use another lender. They cannot legally require you to use their loan company (at least not in California), but they can make it exceedingly difficult to go elsewhere. I've been told by builder's representatives on two occasions that I was wasting my time with a loan, because "If they don't use our lender, they won't get the property!" despite already having a signed purchase agreement. Roadblocks take all sorts of turns. They won't let the appraiser in. They won't cooperate with requests for information, without which the other loan is going nowhere. And so on and so forth.

The builders wouldn't give those incentives to use their lender, or throw roadblocks in your way when they're trying to sell you a property, if they weren't making more money with the loan. Quite often, they're making more money on the loan than they are from the sale. Put you into a loan half a percent above market, stick a three year prepayment penalty on it, and voila, anywhere from a 6 percent premium to perhaps 10 percent. To give you a comparison, around here an agent makes 2.5 to 3 percent from a transaction, and I do my loans on anywhere from half a point to a point and a half, depending upon difficulty and size. But the average consumer is distracted by these "free" upgrades or closing costs that they don't realize how badly they've been raked over the coals. If I can get you that $400,000 loan half a percent cheaper and with no prepayment penalty, I'm saving you $2000 per year for certain, and very likely about $12,000 on the prepayment penalty.

Furthermore, on some of the builder's loans I've analyzed, they're getting you a rate that would carry a point and a half retail rebate, even without the prepayment penalty. This means on a $400,000 loan at that rate, the lender would be paying you a $6000 incentive to do that loan, more than covering normal closing costs. Have no fear, that builder is doing quite well for having loaned you that money.

What can an average person do about this sort of thing? As I've said before, builders often throw roadblocks in the way of outside lenders, and there's not a lot that you or anyone else can do about this fact.

Many people want brand new homes if they can get them. Given the realities about Mello-Roos and how prevalent homeowner's associations are in more recent developments, I'm not certain I understand this. It's one thing to deal with Mrs. Grundy when you're all cheek by jowl in a condominium high rise. It quite another thing to deal with her complaints because you left your garage door open ten minutes longer than the rules say, you want to paint your detached home a couple shades darker or lighter than everyone else, or whatever's got her dander up today.

I do have a trick or two up my sleeve for when I'm a buyer's agent in new developments. It's my job to outmanouever the selling agents the builder has on staff (who tend to be heavy hitting pressure salesfolk). But they are dependent on some things that change from transaction to transaction, so I can't really describe them in any kind of universal terms. Writing an offer contingent upon an outside loan has its limits. Builders who throw roadblocks have that one wired; they wait for the contingency to expire at which point they've either got your deposit or your loan business as you are so desperate not to lose your deposit you'll do almost anything, particularly since most folks don't understand how much that loan is really likely to cost them.

Caveat Emptor

Making Prepayment Penalties Illegal

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I got a search for "which states allow prepayment penalties". I'm not aware of any that don't. If you are, I'd like to know. Any such states should immediately be renamed "Denial".



I really hate prepayment penalties, for a large number of reasons. Nonetheless, to make them illegal would not be in the best interests of consumers.



Let's examine why. Let's consider a hypothetical couple, the Smiths, who don't have much of a down payment, and have difficulty qualifying for the loan. They want to become owners rather than renters, and it is in their best interests to do so.



The cold hard fact of the matter is that nobody does loans for free. Real Estate loans are complex creatures, and they don't just magically appear out of some hyperspatial vortex upon demand. I may cut my usual margin by half if I'm the buyer's agent as well, but that's because I've found I'm going to do a large portion of the work anyway, have to ride herd on the loan officer, and stress out because it's a major part of the transaction that can really hurt my clients that is not only not under my control, but I cannot monitor with any degree of confidence I'm being told the truth. I keep telling folks that the MLDS or GFE don't mean anything. They are not contracts, they are not loan commitments, they are not the Note or Deed of Trust, and they definitely aren't a funded loan. They are supposed to be a best guess estimate of your loan conditions, but with all the limitations and wiggle room built into them, the regulators might as well not have bothered. By themselves, they are worthless. None of the paper you get before you sign final loan documents means anything unless the loan officer wants it to. Unless the loan officer guarantees it in writing that says that someone other than you will eat any difference in costs, what you have is a used piece of paper with some unimportant markings on it. If I, as a better more experienced loan officer than the vast majority of loan officers out there, cannot monitor what another loan officer is doing with any degree of confidence, do you want to bet that you can?



So we have some folks who can just barely stretch to do the loan. In order to buy them a little space on their payments, so that any bill that comes in isn't an absolute disaster they cannot afford, and also so I can get paid without it coming out of the money these people don't have, I talk to them about the situation and we all agree to put a two year pre-payment penalty on the loan. This buys them a lower rate with lower payments, without adding anything to their loan balance. They don't owe any more money, they get a lower rate, I get paid, and they didn't have to come up with money they don't have. Everybody wins, whereas without the prepayment penalty they would be paying $200 per month more, and perhaps they couldn't qualify. No loan, no property, no start to the benefits of ownership. They certainly wouldn't have that $200 per month cushion that's likely to save their bacon from their first emergency. Leaving aside for a moment the issue that most folks want to buy more house than they can afford, that really stinks from the point of view of the people that those who would outlaw prepayment penalties altogether say they are trying to help, those who are trying to buy a home and just barely qualify.



Many folks have a long mortgage history, and they are comfortable in the knowledge that they will not refinance or sell within X number of years. They're willing to accept a pre-payment penalty in order to get the lower rate. They want that $200 per month in their pocket, not the bank's, and they are willing to accept the risk that they may need to sell or refinance in return. After all, if they don't sell or refinance within the term of the penalty, it cost them nothing. Zip. Zero. Nada. For all intents and purposes, free money. I may advise against it, but it is their decision to make or not make that bet, not mine, not the bank's, not the legislature's, and definitely not some clueless bureaucrat's, let alone that of some activist who only understands that lenders make money from them, and not the benefits that real consumers can receive if they go into it with their eyes open.



Pre-payment penalties get abused. Badly abused. I know of places that think nothing of putting a three year pre-payment penalty on a loan with a two year fixed period. There is no way on this earth anyone can tell those folks truthfully what their payments will be like in the third year. I may be able to tell them what the lowest possible payment could be, but not the highest. I've seen five year prepayment penalties on two and three year fixed rate loans, and that situation is even worse. I've heard of ten year prepayment penalties on a three year fixed rate loan. I've seen even A paper lenders slide in long prepayment penalties on unsuspecting borrowers that mean they get an extra six or eight points of profit when they sell the loan. So there are some real issues there.



With this in mind, there are some reforms I could really get behind. The first is making it illegal for a prepayment penalty to exceed the length of time that the actual interest rate is fixed. Regardless of what the contract says, once the real interest rate starts to adjust, no prepayment penalty can be charged (This means no prepayment penalties on Option ARMS, among other things). The second is putting a prepayment penalty disclosure clause in large prominent type on every one of the standard forms, and making it mandatory that the loan provider indemnify the borrower if the final loan delivered does not conform to the initial pre-payment disclosure. In other words, if I tell you there's no pre-payment penalty and there is one, I have to pay it for you. If I tell you there's a two year penalty, and it's a three year penalty, I have to pay it if you sell or refinance in the third year (in the first two years, it's your own lookout because you agreed to that from the beginning).



But to completely abolish the pre-payment payment penalty is not in the best interest of the consumers of any state. Show me a state that has abolished them completely, and I'll show you a state that has hurt its residents to no good purpose. Sometimes there is a good solution to a problem, as I believe I have demonstrated here. It's just not the first one that springs to mind.



Caveat Emptor.

Copyright 2005-2017 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved

 



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This page is a archive of recent entries written by Dan Melson in December 2007.

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