Dan Melson: June 2008 Archives

A while ago I did an article entitled Debt Consolidation Refinance - Pros and Cons. It's a good article, if I do say so myself. Nonetheless, I think there's more to say on the subject, not just from a point of view of cranking some numbers, but on a meta level as well.

The most concrete lure of debt consolidation refinance is cash flow. Specifically, lower payments. The trap is that you are spreading principal payments over a much longer time. You refinance your home to pay off your car loan. Instead of paying the car off over three or five years, now you're paying it off over thirty. Instead of having it paid off when you go to buy another car, you still owe most of what you borrowed, and unless you saved the cash in the meantime, now you're layering more debt on top of what you already owe. So instead of having a paid off $25,000 automobile that's still worth $10,000 and no debt, you now have the forgoing plus $20,000 of debt that you still owe, and you are still paying interest on, on a car that you aren't going to get any more use out of. The fact that the security is your home rather than the vehicle changes nothing except the exact terms of the loan. You added $25,000 to your balance and $20,000 of it is still there, you're still making payments on it, and you are still paying interest on it.

Low payment is one of the best ways to sucker people into doing stupid things that I know of. Maybe that explains why I'm not rich; I want to figure out whether I'm actually helping the situation, and by the time I've worked it through, the folks are off calling the guy who's selling them the Option ARM who doesn't mention downsides or what is really important. As far as I can tell, low payment is the entire advantage of renting, for crying out loud. People think in terms of cash flow while flushing their financial future down the toilet in the name of lower payments.

There is a reason why that Statement of Cash Flow is the least important of the financial statements corporations are required to file, and Wall Street only discusses cash flow when there's something wrong. Unless they've got a large proportion of clients that don't pay their bills, the Income Statement is a lot more important. Corporations don't think of their facilities only in terms of the payments on their loans. Neither should you.

When you pay off a loan, of whatever nature, you are essentially transferring money from one pocket to another. Furthermore, once you have paid it off, you are no longer paying interest - the real cost of the money - on the balance. It's only the interest charge that you are really paying and that is costing you money. Paying off principal is paying yourself. Stretching the loan term from three years to thirty does not alter the amount of principal you pay, but it does greatly increase the amount of interest you pay. Even if you cut the interest rate from 10% to 6% and get a tax deduction to boot. Paying attention to payments is for suckers. You have to be able to make your payment, as I've said before, but so long as the payment is one you can make, concentrate on the real cost of the money - interest rate - and the cost of the loan, or how much you have to spend in order to get the loan funded. Weigh this against the benefits and how long those benefits last.

If all you are paying attention to is cash flow, and you consolidate your debt because it lowers your payment so that you can spend more money, don't be surprised if you find yourself in the same situation a little while down the line. This is a real world illustration of the law of diminishing returns. Each time you do it, you dig yourself in deeper, and there is less additional spending needed to get you to the point where you have to consolidate again. You consolidate your $1500 house payment and $40,000 in debt, and your new payment is $1800. Then you consolidate that and $30,000 in debt, and your new payment is $2100. Then you consolidate that and $20,000, and your new payment is $2400. What do you do when you can't consolidate any more, and you can't afford the payments, either?

If, on the other hand, you consolidate because it lowers your cost of interest and gets you a tax break and you still keep making the same payments as before, then you're miles ahead. If you're using debt consolidation to lower your payment, you are doing it wrong. If your choices are bankruptcy or debt consolidation, well, if you've got a nice stable home loan that you're not going to need to refinance for a couple of years, I might actually consider bankruptcy, particularly if I only need to shed one or two lines of credit. Obviously, talk to bankruptcy attorney first, but once you've rolled it into your home loan, those higher costs are a part of your life for as long as you own the property and haven't paid the loan off. If you can't afford them and you're a serial consolidator, eventually you're going to get to point where you lose the property.

If you consolidate in order to cut your interest costs, and you don't roll excessive loan fees in to your balance, and you keep making the same payment as before and don't take on any more debt until the balance on your home loan is at least as low as it was before you consolidated, then you come out ahead. Way ahead. You're a little bit ahead due to the lowered costs of interest, and you're a little bit further ahead due to the tax break from interest on home loans, and after you get to the point where you were before, every payment you make without adding new debt pays off much more of your balance. In my original Debt Consolidation Refinance article, I used the example of rolling $75,000 debt into a preexisting $300,000 mortgage. It raised the minimum payment by about $400 and cut the overall minimum payment by $1100. If that minimum payment is the reason you did it, you just hosed yourself. But if you cut your overall cost of interest, and kept making the same payments, you've accelerated your payoff schedule. Make the same payments as before, and you're even in less time than it would have taken to pay the consumer credit down. Keep making those same payments after you've brought yourself even, and it can pay the entire debt load off in half the time or less that your home loan would have taken. Even if you don't make it all the way to zero before you need another car, debt consolidation can set you years ahead in just a few short months - but only after you've paid your balance down to where it was before.

In short, debt consolidation refinance is not some magic wand to get out of debt free. There are pitfalls into which the overwhelming majority of people fall, because they do it for the wrong reasons, and afterwards, they keep doing it again and again until some disaster happens and they lose the property. However, correctly handled, it can significantly enhance your financial situation.

Caveat Emptor

A few days ago, another agent in my office got an offer and brought it to me for feedback. The listing was range priced over a $30k range, and priced correctly, so there was a lot of activity on it. The offer was for $30k beneath the bottom of the range, with a note saying that this was for a single dad with three kids, and that was all they could afford, but they really loved the property, and were so excited that that they were each going to get their own room, and so on, gushing for several paragraphs.

In logic circles, this is called the appeal to pity. "Please take pity on me." However, we had every reason to believe that we would be seeing better offers on the property very soon - it hadn't even hit its first weekend on the market, and there had been roughly 15 viewings and six phone calls from agents whose clients had seen the property.

I advised them to counter hard at the high end of the range pricing. It's no concern of current owners what that buyer can and cannot afford. The first two things that ran through my mind were the large amount of activity at an early date, and the likelihood that this was a low-ball flipper's offer. It's not like there's any criminal penalties for creative fiction accompanying an offer. The next two thoughts were if they like the property that much, come talk to me about ways to stretch what you can afford. Two ideas: Mortgage Credit Certificate and Municipality based assistance programs, and both could have been applied to this property, as in it was eligible, there was available money in the program budgets, and each of them stretched the buyer's ability to pay by at least enough, let alone if applied for together. If both were already accounted for, bid on something less expensive; it's not like there is any shortage of properties for sale. Maybe somebody has to share a room; maybe there are fewer amenities, maybe they just don't love it quite as much. None of these is the owner's problem.

Yes, I'm always looking for hidden bargains, but this time I was on the side of the owner, or rather, the owner's agent, and furthermore, the property was correctly priced and seeing strong activity. Neither of those are characteristic of hidden bargains. Furthermore, appeal to pity is a bad negotiating tool.

So here's the situation: Somebody comes up to you and asks you to sell your property for far less than you can get, because they are so deserving, and you want this underdog to succeed against the odds. "Help me, I'm really in need." The appeal is no different at the root than a pan-handler's pitch.

I've given money to panhandlers in my time, too, and doubtless will again. I'm a complete sucker for the ones with kids. But that's maybe $5 or $10, possibly even $20 at the most. Panhandlers are not effectively asking for $40,000 or so out of my pocket, much less my client's pocket. My client has neither a Red Cross nor a Salvation Army Shield on their door. They are not obligated to settle for much less than they could get for a valuable property. In this case, the difference was for something like 70% of their actual net equity, and it is a violation of the fiduciary trust that my client has placed in me, and I have accepted, not to point this out. If it were several months on, and this was looking like it might be the best offer the property would get, that would be one thing. But it was a brand new listing with strong enough activity that there was even hope of a little bit of a bidding war. It's not like the prospective buyer was homeless, and even if they were, there are more logical things to do first than buy a four bedroom detached home, not to mention it would be tough getting verification of rent, which all lenders are going to want.

But I also counseled the other agent not to reject the offer completely, and not to counter until the third day. The high counter signals, in no uncertain terms, that the owner's bargaining position is very strong. It's even a good idea to explain why it's very strong. But in this market, especially, you get buyers looking for a bargain because they might be able to get one. My buyers do it. Why not others? By the third day, there might be another offer on the table. Not that the absence of other offers stops some agents from pretending that there are other offers, but I've always found that the best policy is not to lie when the truth will do, and the truth will always do, because you should tailor your response to what the truth is. This may sound strange coming from a member of the profession that describes condemned buildings as "needing a little TLC", but if you want to do well in negotiations, never overplay your hand (and tell the buyer that the building is condemned. Condemnation is a recorded instrument, so it's not like you can plead ignorance). Real estate is almost entirely public information. If there is a dissonance between how you act, what you say, and what the public information says, good agents will pick up on it. This is not poker. The other side can see most of your cards, and has the option of getting up and walking away from the table at any time, and good agents will counsel their clients to do exactly that if the situation calls for it. The idea is a willing buyer and a willing seller coming to a mutually beneficial arrangement.

So the other agent took the offer to the client, and jointly they decided to mostly follow my advice. The prospective buyer walked away, they got two more offers before the third day. And a couple days later, well, remember that first group of two thoughts I had? Well, we found out that that particular prospective buyer was buying with intent to flip; he had flipped at least four properties in the previous year or so. His low offer and all the histrionics surrounding it was simply a ploy for more profit.

Caveat Emptor

A couple of weeks ago, I got an email asking Save For A Down Payment or Buy Now?, and I wrote a two part article on the subject. Part 2 of Save For A Down Payment or Buy Now? Gave an alternative strategy to make affordability accelerate faster. But there was an obvious, related concern that I let go because it was a very complex calculation, and that was, "What's the effect of waiting to buy on my financial situation down the line?"

This wasn't an easy problem to program, even in a spreadsheet. I'm decent with spreadsheets, but for a lot of the calculations I had to do it by brute force repetition. Had I been able to do certain functions on spreadsheets that I used to do with matrices back in the really dim times, it would have been far easier, but the area I ended up using was three sheets totaling about 60,000 cells. Most of it was change one thing, copy and paste a row or column segment, then change another. It wasn't that hard mentally, but the finished product certainly makes a microprocessor work for a living!

I also had to make some simplifications to the problem. In order to make the problem manageable, I had to assume that you hold onto your home, once you have bought, at least until the end of the scenario, and also that you never refinance. I had to program it with smooth inflation, smooth appreciation, smooth increases in federal income tax standard deductions, and smooth increases in auxiliary prices. Anyone over the age of thirty ought to know how dangerous that is. But adding those random elements made the problem beyond the scope of what I could realistically do. I also had to postulate no major changes in income or property tax law, and I had to ignore the effects of state income taxes. Besides, the idea was to isolate the effects of the variable under consideration, how waiting to buy a home influences your financial situation down the line. I also had to choose a set period to terminate at, and arbitrarily chose 30 years.

Actually, this is two discrete problems when you really look at it, and they really are disjoint, and no matter how much the folks who sell Reverse Annuity Mortgages might try to link them, they are separate cases. What happens if you keep living there, versus what happens if you decide to sell and move somewhere else when you retire.

Nonetheless, the following simulations are all as representative as I can make them. Except for the effects of state income tax, they are in line with current California computations.

Example 1: Suppose you're talking about a San Diego Condo. $300,000 present purchase price, no down payment but you can save $500 per month for a down payment in the future if you don't buy now, and this amount increases proportional to salary increases. The property continues to appreciate at 4.5% whether you buy or not, association dues are $250 per month and general inflation is 4%, and you can get 7.2% return, net of taxes (10% minus an assumed marginal tax rate of 28%), on the money you save for a down payment. Whenever you buy, you can get a 6% first mortgage, and a 9% second if you need it. I'm also going to assume that in order to see any financial benefit, you're going to have to sell at a cost of seven percent of value. Furthermore, you're stable in your profession, seeing a 3% compounded annual raise in income, and equivalent rent is $1400 per month currently.



Year
0
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
purchase price
$300,000.00
$313,500.00
$327,607.50
$342,349.84
$357,755.58
$373,854.58
$390,678.04
$408,258.55
$426,630.18
$445,828.54
$465,890.83
$486,855.91
$508,764.43
$531,658.83
$555,583.48
$580,584.73
$606,711.05
$634,013.04
$662,543.63
$692,358.09
$723,514.21
$756,072.35
$790,095.60
$825,649.90
$862,804.15
$901,630.34
$942,203.70
$984,602.87
$1,028,910.00
$1,075,210.95
$1,123,595.44
still owe
*
$24,489.73
$46,429.89
$67,745.37
$88,445.34
$108,534.07
$128,010.82
$146,869.63
$165,099.15
$182,682.37
$200,029.06
$217,296.63
$233,893.12
$249,747.93
$264,783.31
$278,913.68
$292,045.12
$304,074.62
$314,889.39
$324,366.10
$332,370.01
$338,754.10
$343,358.06
$346,007.30
$346,511.78
$344,664.85
$340,241.87
$332,998.90
$322,671.15
$308,971.35
$291,299.48
housing*
$1,354.26
$1,514.40
$1,659.59
$1,801.37
$1,939.80
$2,074.91
$2,206.72
$2,335.19
$2,460.26
$2,581.85
$2,702.41
$2,822.91
$2,939.80
$3,052.67
$3,161.06
$3,264.47
$3,362.35
$3,454.09
$3,539.04
$3,616.45
$3,685.54
$3,745.43
$3,795.18
$3,833.75
$3,860.02
$3,872.76
$3,870.64
$3,852.21
$3,815.90
$3,760.00
$3,680.93
waiting
$0.00
$160.15
$305.33
$447.11
$585.54
$720.66
$852.46
$980.93
$1,106.01
$1,227.59
$1,348.16
$1,468.65
$1,585.54
$1,698.41
$1,806.80
$1,910.21
$2,008.09
$2,099.84
$2,184.78
$2,262.19
$2,331.28
$2,391.17
$2,440.92
$2,479.49
$2,505.76
$2,518.50
$2,516.39
$2,497.96
$2,461.65
$2,405.75
$2,326.67
savings*
$3,186.50
$3,026.35
$2,881.16
$2,739.39
$2,600.96
$2,465.84
$2,334.04
$2,205.57
$2,080.49
$1,958.91
$1,838.34
$1,717.85
$1,600.96
$1,488.09
$1,379.70
$1,276.29
$1,178.41
$1,086.66
$1,001.72
$924.31
$855.22
$795.33
$745.58
$707.01
$680.74
$667.99
$670.11
$688.54
$724.85
$780.75
$859.82

*Still owe 1 final payment after thirty years if you buy today. "Housing" is how much your costs of housing will be in 30 years if you bought at the indicated time is, and assumes you refinance for zero cost into the same rate you have now. Waiting cost is as opposed to buying now. Finally, the savings column has to do with how much you are saving per month over what the equivalent rent will be in 30 years, namely $4540.76 in this case.

Please keep in mind that the table is the net result 30 years out; the only time variable in the equation is precisely when you bought the exact same condo. Now there is some mildly strange stuff that goes on. For instance, starting 25 years out, there's a period where, under the stated assumptions, your saving for a down payment actually starts to increase in value faster than the property. But by that point, you've missed the optimum time to buy by, well, 25 years. Keep in mind that money will be worth less than a third of what it is today in thirty years ($1 then will be worth 30.8 cents now), but you are still saving significant amounts of money on your future housing payments by buying as soon as practical.

Now let's look at the situation if you decide to sell your home and go live somewhere else:






Year

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

24

25

26

27

28

29

30

purchase price

$300,000.00

$313,500.00

$327,607.50

$342,349.84

$357,755.58

$373,854.58

$390,678.04

$408,258.55

$426,630.18

$445,828.54

$465,890.83

$486,855.91

$508,764.43

$531,658.83

$555,583.48

$580,584.73

$606,711.05

$634,013.04

$662,543.63

$692,358.09

$723,514.21

$756,072.35

$790,095.60

$825,649.90

$862,804.15

$901,630.34

$942,203.70

$984,602.87

$1,028,910.00

$1,075,210.95

$1,123,595.44

net equity

$1,043,032.82

$1,020,454.03

$998,513.87

$977,198.39

$956,498.42

$936,409.69

$916,932.94

$898,074.13

$879,844.61

$862,261.39

$844,914.70

$827,647.13

$811,050.64

$795,195.83

$780,160.45

$766,030.08

$752,898.64

$740,869.14

$730,054.37

$720,577.66

$712,573.75

$706,189.66

$701,585.70

$698,936.46

$698,431.98

$700,278.91

$704,701.89

$711,944.85

$722,272.61

$735,972.41

$753,644.28

liquidation

$7,079.98

$6,926.72

$6,777.79

$6,633.11

$6,492.60

$6,356.24

$6,224.03

$6,096.02

$5,972.28

$5,852.93

$5,735.18

$5,617.97

$5,505.32

$5,397.70

$5,295.64

$5,199.72

$5,110.59

$5,028.93

$4,955.52

$4,891.20

$4,836.87

$4,793.53

$4,762.28

$4,744.30

$4,740.87

$4,753.41

$4,783.43

$4,832.60

$4,902.70

$4,995.69

$5,115.65

net benefit

$594,459.84

$531,782.24

$526,736.25

$495,140.59

$448,046.96

$435,547.19

$407,644.83

$380,733.08

$354,624.01

$329,944.53

$301,836.93

$269,957.25

$239,420.18

$210,196.49

$182,428.96

$155,944.29

$130,741.38

$106,921.94

$84,296.01

$63,087.55

$43,073.74

$24,442.68

$7,100.56

($8,932.23)

($23,548.85)

($36,736.02)

($48,455.14)

($58,627.44)

($67,101.14)

($73,746.48)

($78,651.68)

waiting cost

$0.00

$22,578.79

$44,518.95

$65,834.43

$86,534.39

$106,623.13

$126,099.88

$144,958.69

$163,188.21

$180,771.43

$198,118.12

$215,385.69

$231,982.17

$247,836.99

$262,872.36

$277,002.74

$290,134.18

$302,163.67

$312,978.45

$322,455.16

$330,459.07

$336,843.15

$341,447.12

$344,096.36

$344,600.84

$342,753.90

$338,330.93

$331,087.96

$320,760.21

$307,060.41

$289,388.54


Net equity is what you have left after 7% costs of selling, liquidation assumes that you are taking out 360 equal monthly payments based upon the same return I assumed your money could earn before you bought. Net benefit is the number of dollars difference it makes to your financial position in the future 30 years from now if you buy at the indicated time. Notice that starting 25 years out, it actually hurts you to buy from then on out, as opposed to just letting the investments you were saving for a down payment run. Waiting cost is how much it hurt your future financial position to delay purchase by that much, so if you wait five years, you end up with over $100,000 less in your pocket.

Now let's do a second example: Still in San Diego, but you're going to buy a starter single family residence that would cost $450,000 today. Nudge assumed appreciation up to 5.5%, cut association dues out but raise property taxes and insurance costs appropriately. Oh, and the equivalent rent now starts at $2000, and general inflation I'm going to assume to be 3.5%. Actually, based upon the past seventy years, everything that has happened has been, over time, more favorable to home ownership than this.

Once again, let's look at the situation if you keep living in the property after 30 years first.



Year
0
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
purchase price
$450,000.00
$474,750.00
$500,861.25
$528,408.62
$557,471.09
$588,132.00
$620,479.26
$654,605.62
$690,608.93
$728,592.42
$768,665.01
$810,941.58
$855,543.37
$902,598.25
$952,241.16
$1,004,614.42
$1,059,868.21
$1,118,160.97
$1,179,659.82
$1,244,541.11
$1,312,990.87
$1,385,205.37
$1,461,391.66
$1,541,768.21
$1,626,565.46
$1,716,026.56
$1,810,408.02
$1,909,980.46
$2,015,029.38
$2,125,856.00
$2,242,778.08
still owe
*
$37,403.63
$72,247.27
$107,464.64
$143,121.84
$179,283.73
$216,014.10
$253,375.62
$291,429.94
$330,237.68
$369,858.41
$410,350.66
$451,771.89
$494,178.40
$537,625.32
$582,166.43
$627,908.86
$675,787.71
$724,872.44
$775,183.89
$826,740.19
$879,556.33
$933,643.75
$989,009.82
$1,045,657.39
$1,103,584.13
$1,162,781.95
$1,223,236.28
$1,284,925.33
$1,347,819.27
$1,410,482.12
monthly
$1,151.93
$1,404.15
$1,641.99
$1,883.05
$2,127.79
$2,376.60
$2,629.93
$2,888.18
$3,151.75
$3,421.06
$3,696.50
$3,978.46
$4,267.34
$4,563.52
$4,867.37
$5,179.28
$5,499.92
$5,834.96
$6,178.89
$6,531.86
$6,894.07
$7,265.65
$7,646.73
$8,037.44
$8,437.84
$8,847.99
$9,267.92
$9,697.62
$10,137.03
$10,586.05
$11,036.15
Wait cost
$0.00
$252.22
$490.06
$731.13
$975.86
$1,224.68
$1,478.00
$1,736.25
$1,973.99
$2,178.71
$2,388.07
$2,602.37
$2,821.91
$3,046.98
$3,277.86
$3,514.85
$3,758.46
$4,013.04
$4,274.35
$4,542.51
$4,817.67
$5,099.93
$5,389.39
$5,686.13
$5,990.21
$6,301.66
$6,620.52
$6,946.75
$7,280.32
$7,621.14
$7,962.68
savings
$4,461.66
$4,209.44
$3,971.60
$3,730.53
$3,485.80
$3,236.98
$2,983.66
$2,725.41
$2,461.84
$2,192.53
$1,917.09
$1,635.12
$1,346.24
$1,050.07
$746.21
$434.31
$113.67
($221.38)
($565.30)
($918.28)
($1,280.48)
($1,652.06)
($2,033.15)
($2,423.85)
($2,824.25)
($3,234.40)
($3,654.34)
($4,084.03)
($4,523.44)
($4,972.46)
($5,422.56)

Equivalent rent would be $5613.59. Once again, the last three columns are all monthly streams, and they do have a steady worsening the entire time, mostly because your saving for a down payment does not start to catch up to the increase in property values during the simulation period. In other words, the longer you wait, the worse it gets. Indeed, affordability is monotonically decreasing the entire time. That's math geek for "Quit waiting, it only gets worse." Even though a dollar then is only worth 35.6 cents now, wouldn't you like as many 35.6 cents in your pocket as possible?

Now let's examine if you decide to sell this starter home in retirement, and go live somewhere else.



Year
0
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
purchase price
$450,000.00
$474,750.00
$500,861.25
$528,408.62
$557,471.09
$588,132.00
$620,479.26
$654,605.62
$690,608.93
$728,592.42
$768,665.01
$810,941.58
$855,543.37
$902,598.25
$952,241.16
$1,004,614.42
$1,059,868.21
$1,118,160.97
$1,179,659.82
$1,244,541.11
$1,312,990.87
$1,385,205.37
$1,461,391.66
$1,541,768.21
$1,626,565.46
$1,716,026.56
$1,810,408.02
$1,909,980.46
$2,015,029.38
$2,125,856.00
$2,242,778.08
net equity
$2,082,917.20
$2,048,379.98
$2,013,536.35
$1,978,318.97
$1,942,661.78
$1,906,499.88
$1,869,769.52
$1,832,407.99
$1,794,353.67
$1,755,545.93
$1,715,925.21
$1,675,432.96
$1,634,011.73
$1,591,605.21
$1,548,158.29
$1,503,617.18
$1,457,874.75
$1,409,995.90
$1,360,911.17
$1,310,599.72
$1,259,043.42
$1,206,227.28
$1,152,139.87
$1,096,773.79
$1,040,126.22
$982,199.48
$923,001.67
$862,547.34
$800,858.28
$737,964.35
$675,301.50
liquidation
$14,138.60
$13,904.16
$13,667.65
$13,428.60
$13,186.56
$12,941.10
$12,691.78
$12,438.17
$12,179.86
$11,916.44
$11,647.50
$11,372.64
$11,091.48
$10,803.63
$10,508.72
$10,206.38
$9,895.88
$9,570.89
$9,237.70
$8,896.20
$8,546.24
$8,187.73
$7,820.59
$7,444.77
$7,060.25
$6,667.05
$6,265.23
$5,854.87
$5,436.13
$5,009.21
$4,583.87
net benefit
$1,681,408.70
$1,527,603.06
$1,482,514.85
$1,390,228.98
$1,262,990.98
$1,218,788.65
$1,139,516.49
$1,064,002.28
$991,242.90
$921,953.98
$854,914.46
$790,327.87
$728,045.15
$667,919.78
$609,807.59
$553,566.46
$498,733.07
$440,202.91
$383,770.99
$329,344.94
$276,837.21
$226,165.09
$177,250.78
$130,021.48
$84,409.45
$40,352.17
($2,207.48)
($43,321.12)
($83,034.61)
($121,387.80)
($156,994.47)
wait cost
$0.00
$34,537.22
$69,380.85
$104,598.23
$140,255.42
$176,417.32
$213,147.68
$250,509.21
$288,563.53
$327,371.27
$366,991.99
$407,484.25
$448,905.47
$491,311.99
$534,758.91
$579,300.02
$625,042.45
$672,921.30
$722,006.03
$772,317.48
$823,873.78
$876,689.92
$930,777.33
$986,143.41
$1,042,790.98
$1,100,717.72
$1,159,915.53
$1,220,369.86
$1,282,058.92
$1,344,952.85
$1,407,615.70

Now it is to be noted, as you may have seen under the first table, a point in time exists starting 26 years out where you will be better off just keeping your down payment money socked away in alternative investments, as opposed to actually using it to buy your home.

I'm planning to start using this sheet with prospects, under assumptions they can set - If they think inflation is going to average 7%, or appreciation only 3%, the sheet can accommodate that. I've played with the sheet over a few dozen simulations, and due to leverage, the numbers appear quite powerfully in favor of buying the best home that you can actually afford, right now. Interestingly enough, however, these number also strongly suggest that as close to 100% financing as you can manage initially will outperform larger down payments, and that's something that seems quite counter-intuitive to the usual run of financial planning. Instead of using it for your down payment, financing 100% of your purchase if you can seems to make your money work harder. Well, I can put a lot of caveats on that, because metaphorical bumps in the road happen, and nobody knows exactly when or how these disasters will strike. If you do, you can plan for it, and could you please drop me an email in warning? When you're just looking at the raw numbers, however, the advice they give is quite strongly to buy the best property you can afford as soon as you can, putting down as little of a down payment as you can, and making the minimum payments while salting away the rest for a rainy day. But be very careful not to stretch too far, because one thing you can count on, even in Southern California, is that it will rain sometimes.

Caveat Emptor

Vampire Properties

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I just went out doing some general market scouting. Looked at ten properties, and at least three were of a sort that I've started calling "vampire properties." One more reason you want a good buyer's agent.

Like a mythical vampire, these properties are very charming on the surface, luring in the innocent victims with brand new flooring, new roof tiles, and new paint. All the relatively cheap stuff that inexperienced buyers love. There might even be a new spa in the back yard. They call the listing agent and fall in love with the property. They put in an offer, which is quickly accepted, buy the property and move in.

Then the troubles start. Those brand new roofing tiles get ripped off the rotten substructure the first time a good wind comes up. The new owners notice that the travertine floor tiles are separating, and eventually, when one comes loose, find that there's a two inch wide crack in the foundation that runs the width of the house. That beautiful new tile in the bathroom has to come out because they discover the green board is rotten, and the framing boards as well.

It'd be better if the property was sucking your blood. At least that's covered by health insurance if you've got it. But it's got its fangs permanently embedded in your bank account, instead. None of this stuff is covered by home owner's insurance, new home warranties, or anything else. Your home owner's insurance might replace the roof tiles (pulled off by wind, which is usually a covered peril), but the rotten structure underneath is your problem, caused by the normal wear of time.

In most cases, I find it hard to believe that the previous owners didn't know about this stuff. That's what the brand new facade is about. They figured a quick surface fix - the home owner's equivalent of a cheap paint job over a rusted car body - and they unload the lemon on some unsuspecting chump and walk away. Quickly.

For any of those sort of people reading this, I've got to tell you that the lawyers will find you. But for the buyers in the situation, the lawsuit - which will take years, even assuming that they win and if the judgment is paid - is a poor substitute for not getting into the property in the first place. Particularly if, as seems to be the usual case, they stretched to the extreme limit of their budget or beyond in order to afford the property.

It is far preferable, to all parties, to have the issues dealt with before the sale is consummated.

Now most buyer's agents aren't licensed inspectors, and I'm not one of the few. You still want an full-on building inspection. That doesn't mean agents can't spot stuff before you have a purchase contract, come up with a deposit, and spend hundreds for an inspection. All of this is called "buy in," and works off of a phenomenon psychologists call cognitive dissonance. You've said you want it, you work really hard and jump through all of these hoops to get it, and when you find out how bad it really is, you keep going because you are so mentally committed, because you've done all this stuff. If it's something I can spot, wouldn't you rather find out before you do all of that work?

The listing agent certainly won't tell you. They'll have you sign a standard disclaimer advising you to get an inspection. Yes, they have to help fill out the disclosures, but if they're not licensed inspectors, they can't be blamed for not knowing, can they? Their responsibility is to get the best possible deal for the sellers. They have very little responsibility to the buyer. You can't blame listing agents for doing their job (You can blame them for lying).

It's almost inevitable that the owners of vampire properties price the property like something out of Big Al's Discount Used Car Lot. "Cream puff, baby! One owner, a little old lady who only lived in it on Sundays." They want top dollar and then some. I understand, but I'm not going along and neither are my clients if I can help it. I saw one today where the list price was $40,000 more than it should have been if it wasn't a vampire. The agents should know better, assuming they are not deliberately "buying a listing." Price it to market if you want to move, and that includes a hefty discount for not being the one who has to hassle with fixing it. If you want that money in your pocket yourself, fix the problem yourself. You'll also interest a better grade of potential buyer, not to mention more buyers than just the simpleton who happened to win the lottery.

I'd rather deal with a property where the issues are out in the open. I also found one property today that has a crack across the living room floor, out in the open due the aftermath of an obvious flood, but I can find buyers who know how to deal with that (If the lot is level, it's not such a big deal, and can often be fixed surprisingly cheap). You don't have a listing agent pretending to drool over beautiful flooring that is going to have to be replaced anyway. Furthermore, it indicates that the listing agent, at least, doesn't have their head stuck in the Land of Wishful Thinking, so if I take a client who is interested despite the flaws out to the view the property, we're all pretty much on the same page as to what's going on with the property, and we have the makings of a reasonable negotiation. If the listing agent is in the Land of Wishful Thinking, I'm wasting my time to look and the client's also if I show it to them.

Vampire properties are out there. In markets such as this one, they are both increasingly common and deadly to your financial future. You want somebody whose job it is to look past the beautiful surface to the very real issues beneath. If you buy a vampire, it's worse than a disastrous marriage, because the financial consequences are likely to follow you long after your abusive partner is history.

Caveat Emptor

Loans are declined, or actually, the next thing to it, all the time. It is pretty rare for a loan to be outright rejected; I do not recall ever having had a loan outright rejected. That's a sign of a loan officer who wasn't paying attention to guidelines when the loan was submitted. What happens is that the underwriter puts conditions on it which cannot realistically be met. Documentation for more income than you make is probably the classic example of this. What usually causes this is that the underwriter finds a debt that didn't show up on the credit report and that you didn't tell your loan officer about, and so a loan with a marginal but acceptable Debt to Income Ratio became unacceptable. Or the appraisal comes in low, raising the cost or lowering the cash out due to a higher Loan to Value Ratio than the loan was priced for. Sometimes there is something that can be done about it; sometimes there isn't. If your loan officer can't think of anything to do about it, he'll tell you the loan was rejected. Sometimes they'll tell you that the quote that got you to sign up was rejected, also, but they have this other loan over here "that isn't much more expensive" that you do qualify for. Telling you that a loan was rejected is one of the best ways there is for a loan officer to do bait and switch.

Unfortunately, there really isn't anything you can do to verify that your loan was rejected, as opposed to bait and switched, or just couldn't meet underwriting guidelines. (Whether it had any chance of meeting underwriting guidelines is a subject for many more essays).

The first thing to do is realize that the fact you cannot meet guidelines for the loan that got you to sign up means that it is time to start shopping around again. That loan that got you to sign up does not exist as far as you are concerned. It's not like they are suddenly going to discover that the guidelines allow 5% higher debt to income ratio. If your loan officer is not a complete bozo, they will have gone over alternatives with the underwriter before telling you about the difficulty. If there's something they can do with a little bit more paperwork or a little more income, they're going to ask you if maybe you have the paperwork, or if you make $500 per year in some other fashion. A good loan officer told you about the loan because he believed you would qualify, but you don't. A bad loan officer told you about the loan because he thought he could use it to get you to sign up, and then pull a switcheroo on you once he had the originals of all your paperwork and control of the appraisal that you've already paid for. There really is no good way to tell for sure. In either case, you are back to square one - shopping your loan. I would also think twice about staying with the same loan provider. He's told you about one loan he couldn't do to get you to sign up. Why not two? At a minimum, I'd want a good back up loan.

So being told you don't qualify for the loan you thought you were going to get is always a sign that you need to start shopping your loan around again. That's why you don't ever give a loan officer your originals of anything. Even if somebody brings me an original, a copy is just fine and I can hand the original back. The only paperwork I need the originals of is the loan paperwork - the application I fill out and have you sign, and the disclosures associated with it.

Now I mentioned the appraisal, and you need to be careful here too, so that you don't end up paying for two appraisals. Now every time I write something about controlling the appraisal, some appraisers who want you to pay for two appraisals come on to the site and start defending their interests (i.e. $ in their pocket). Well, a good loan provider who fully intends to deliver the loan he talks about has no problem promising in writing to release the appraisal if he can't do the exact loan he talked about. Once the appraisal is released, it only costs a re-typing fee (about $100), not a whole new appraisal fee, to take your loan somewhere else. Without a release, you have to pay for a whole new appraisal - so you're out the money for two appraisals. But don't choose an loan provider because they will front money for an appraisal. I've dealt with Loan Providers Who Will Pay For Your Appraisal before. One way or another, you are paying for that appraisal. Not only are you paying for that appraisal, you are paying for the appraisal of everyone who canceled their loan, too, and a good margin on top of that.

Caveat Emptor


My general rule of thumb is "Remodel for your own enjoyment. If you're lucky, you'll get some of your money back when your sell." The remodeling industry has made a very large amount of money seducing people into believing they will recoup their investment, or more than their investment. But as you can see here, it's a rare remodeling project that returns more than the cost. Therefore, don't remodel with the idea of making a profit, because you won't. Not a single one of those multipliers is greater than 1.

But there are times when remodeling to sell makes dollars and sense.

Mostly, it's when the existing stuff is so outdated that Ms. Newlywed takes one look and flees in terror from the Uranium Yellow or Art Deco Pink and Blue that's been out of favor since before her mother was born. Maybe it was fine thirty years ago when you bought it, and you've gotten used to it, but now it's fifty years old and you've just never motivated yourself to do anything about it. If the kitchen is straight out of 1955, and the bathrooms look like they were last decorated when Hawaiian kitsch was the hot new fad (memo to the young: Eisenhower was President), it's probably a good idea to do something about that before you try to sell - "Try" being the important word. Because people looking for their dream home aren't interested, and these properties sit on the market. If they eventually sell, they will sell for way below everything else on the market, first because of the visible age, second because it sat on the market and you had to reduce the price further and further while paying carrying costs for months. These are the sorts of homes rehabbers and flippers look for, because they can make a profit on them. If you have the money, why wouldn't you want that profit for yourself?

For buyers, if you're willing to buy something that's solid but older, you can get one heck of a deal as well as being able to remodel at whatever pace you're comfortable with. Truthfully, most folks I talk to have at least some plans for as soon as they buy, anyway. If you're planning to install new kitchen cabinets and granite counters anyway, what does it matter if what's there is ancient or poorly laid out?

The first level of remodeling is to clean, shine, and repair any surfaces that need it. This is a straightforward extension of the "carpet and paint" principle. New paint and carpet are cheap, and have a great return on investment. If the formica is burned or chipped, if the tile is broken, if it's dull and dingy, make it shine. It always amazes me that people with hardwood floors will leave them looking like they haven't been polished since they were laid down in 1932. Strip them, sand them, polish them - before you put the property on the market. It's a lot cheaper than replacing or laying new carpet. They will look beautiful. They will make people want your house. Not everyone, of course, but how many buyers do you need? If you've got something lots of people see as desirable, flaunt it.

Sometimes, there just isn't any choice but to take it to the next level. Stoves built in to the countertop and cooking ovens in the cabinets are so 1958. If there aren't any good matches for marred, gouged, or broken surfaces, you probably want to re-do the whole surface. Keep in mind that labor costs are pretty much a constant, and the largest expense of most jobs. You want to spend $4500 resurfacing the bathroom in plastic and linoleum, or $5800 resurfacing it in Travertine and nice tile? Add a moderately upscale toilet for a couple hundred bucks, and you've got a bathroom that looks like it comes out of Sunset magazine rather than an episode of the Flintstones. Somebody who flees in terror from the latter is likely to be attracted to the former. Even if they don't flee in terror from the Flintstones bathroom, most folks are going to be much more attracted to the Sunset magazine bathroom.

Keep in mind, also, that the new stuff you put in has to go with whatever you're keeping. If you've got a Mediterranean paint scheme, Art Deco counters are not going to work for most prospective buyers, and they're the ones you're trying to please at this point. Just sayin'. The more vanilla you keep it, the fewer prospective buyers you will alienate.

Don't go overboard. It can be a real temptation to spend $25,000 or more on new kitchen appliances, but you're not going to get your money back. Keep in mind that most appliances are personal property, so (in the absence of the contract specifying otherwise) you can take them with you when you go. However, in cases like that it's more common than not that those appliances remaining will be written into any purchase offer, and if you agree to leave them, you have to. If you don't want to leave them, away goes the purchase offer to no beneficial effect. If two-thirds of the gourmet kitchen that attracted a buyer is going away when you move out, it's not likely to do you much good in selling your property. I always ask my buyers why they're willing to pay more for the kitchen when most of it is going away. There are idiots who insist they don't want a buyer's agent, but betting on that is a bet you don't need to make - and quite often lose.

Poor lighting can kill a sale without the buyers ever realizing why. It's dark, it's cavelike, it feels old - they don't want it. Just leaving the drapes open makes a huge difference. Replacing the lighting - particularly if you use CFL so you don't have to necessarily have to rewire for a bigger load - can be very cost effective.

If you're going to remodel anyway, clean up your lines of sight and floor plan if you can. The longer the uninterrupted lines of sight, the bigger the property "feels". The less complex the floor plan, the more open and larger it will feel. If you have to go through three switchbacks to get through the kitchen, that's a bad thing. Separate but connected "areas" are better than room dividers which are in turn better than walls, at least in the public areas of your property. If you're remodeling anyway, fix it.

One of the overlooked and relatively cheap remodels is the closet. Basic closets from fifty years ago are tiny by modern standards. People today have more stuff, and they want places to put it. People who get very interested in modern new kitchens and beautiful new bathrooms can just as easily get turned off by small closets. If they see a standard post-war closet arrangement (a three foot space between walls of two bedrooms, with half going to one bedroom and half to the other), they'll quite likely think that isn't enough closet space. "Next property! These closets are too small." Put a modern closet design in, with shoe holders drawers and cabinets and half size hanging spaces that efficiently use the space, and for most people, that's a horse of a different color. Closets are a bigger concern with more people than most folks give credence to, and they're way cheaper than most other remodels.

In some cases, remodeling may not get your money back, but it may be the difference between selling quickly and not selling for months, if at all. It's very hard to track this sort of information, and harder still to assign a dollar value to it. Keep in mind that a $200,000 mortgage at 6% costs $1000 per month, and property taxes and homeowner's insurance add to that. Not to mention that the longer it's on the market, the more you have to mark the property down in order to sell. At these prices, four months make a difference of about $6000 in carrying costs alone, never mind what you have to mark the property down to interest people in it with over a hundred days on the market!

Remodeling isn't the license to print money it's been portrayed as - except for the remodeling industry. Small budgets are more likely to recover large fractions of what you spend than larger ones. Unless the property is significantly behind the times, remodel for your own enjoyment, because you won't get as much back as you spend.

Caveat Emptor


More Lenders are removing declining market notation for San Diego.

Since 95% loans are now readily available without a government program, demand is up and unfortunately, so are rates.

The Best Loans Right NOW

6.25% 30 Year fixed rate loan, with one total point to the consumer and NO PREPAYMENT PENALTIES!. Assuming a $400,000 loan, Payment $2462, APR 6.389! This is a thirty year fixed rate loan. The payment and interest rate will stay the same on this loan until it is paid off! 30 year fixed rate loans as low as 5.375 percent!

5/1 Rates will save you a lot of money!

Best 5/1 ARM: 5.625% with 1 total point to the consumer, and NO PREPAYMENT PENALTIES! Assuming a $400,000 loan, Payment $2302 APR 5.759. This is a fully amortized loan with a fixed rate for the first five years. 5/1 ARM rates as low as 5 percent!

10 year interest only payments available on 30 year fixed rate loans!

Great Rates on temporary conforming, jumbo and super-jumbo loans also available!

Zero closing costs loans also available!

Yes, I still have 100% financing (full documentation) and stated income loans!

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

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

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

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

100% financing a specialty.

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

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


About a month ago, I wrote Top Ten Reasons Your Home Isn't Selling. It was well received so I thought I'd take it from the buyer's perspective. Once again, I'll try to inject as much humor as I can.

Number 10: The Commute: It never ceases to amaze me the number of people who will commit themselves to living in a neighborhood they've never lived in before without a real evaluation of how to get from there to everywhere else they need to be. Don't just drive from the house to work once when there's no traffic. Try to drive back and forth at the times you'll be driving it every day. Or if you're a public transportation person, figure out what that's going to be like before you're stuck doing it. Take into consideration that the commute is going to get less and less enjoyable as time goes on. Be certain in your own mind that you're going to be okay doing this as often as you have to. If the commute is intolerable, then as certain as gravity you're not going to be living there or not going to be working there. For genius IQ points (or at least subgenius), try the paths you're going to have to take to your other common destinations. Grocery stores, the mall, your Tuesday night class in whatever, the kids' scout meetings. If you have to travel or work in different locations, do those trips also. An good agent should ask about all this, and be aware of the effects. An Evil Agent, will, of course, induce you to buy property where you'll have to sell it - generating more commissions.

Number 9 Beautiful Surfaces: They've just put Travertine and Italian Marble all through the room you want for the nursery! Too bad about that six inch wide crack in the foundation they covered up! Still, it's obviously the house you've got to have! At least until the first time your toddler breaks multiple bones falling on those tiles. Unfortunately, by then it's too late. And just wait until the old cast iron plumbing fully closes up or springs a leak, but at least it puts out the fire caused by plugging too much into eighty year old wiring! Yes, beautiful surfaces are nice - and one of the best ways to get novice buyers to pay too much.

Number 8 Insufficient shopping: You looked at one house and fell in love. Unfortunately, it was the crummiest most overpriced house in the neighborhood. Other people trying to get out before the new needle exchange program opens down the street are going to be praising you for paying so much that their house will appraise for whatever value they need it to! Seriously, if you don't look at ten to fifteen properties, you're definitely short of market information, even with the best agent in the world ;-). I have seen people shop more for $20 toaster ovens than half-million dollar real estate. Scary.

Number 7: Skimping on Services: Trying to do without title insurance or inspection is a recipe for disaster. I've said this before, but title issues really do happen, and it's not always with the person who may appear to be the current owner. Ditto the inspection. I don't think I've ever had a property where the inspection didn't reveal anything I didn't know about the property. I've had the stuff the inspector found be trivial, but never non-existent. Here's one thing that seems to be a rule: if you're getting a good bargain, there will be something you want an inspector's opinion on before the sale is final. People understand cash, and many don't understand the concept of insurable risk. By the time you join the ranks of those folks out half a million dollars worth of property and still on the hook for the loan, you may have a different opinion.

Number 6: Location: Backing out of your driveway onto the high-speed expressway, your spouse's vehicle is flattened by the bus returning this week's escapees to the maximum security prison a quarter mile down the road - past the explosives factory, the toxic waste dump, and the chemical plant. She's taken to the emergency room at the hospital for the violently insane across the street, and neither you nor your lawyer ever do come up with conclusive proof of what happened after that when the airliner landed short of the runway. Seriously, there are many things that can rule out a location, from the above through several milder forms of ambient environmental issues, down to misplaced improvements. You might be able to move a building. Nobody has ever figured out how to move the land it came on.

Number 5 The Loan: The only way to qualify for the dollar amount you need is to take an unsustainable loan or a loan that is guaranteed to self-destruct. I'd like to be humorous here, but this is somewhat less funny than the most politically incorrect joke I've ever heard, let alone what I'm willing to print here. Betting on rising values and falling rates to enable you to refinance more favorably is literally putting your home and your future on a craps table. This leads into-

Number 4 Didn't Adhere To Budget, and not having a known budget in the first place is the ultimate case of this. I've written at least one two three articles directly upon the point of figuring how much you can afford. Figure out your budgetary limit first, and shop by purchase price, not payment. This isn't to say you have to spend the maximum, but the worst ways people shoot themselves in the head (not the foot) is by falling in love with the property that's too expensive for what they can really afford. In How to Effectively Shop for a Buyer's Agent, I tell you to immediately fire any agent who wants you to look at a property that cannot be obtained within the budget you tell them about. The asking price can be a little higher than your limit, with the understanding that if you can't get the price down that far via negotiation, you're not interested.

Number 3 Assuming Something That Isn't True: Josh Billings was correct. It's not what you don't know that gets you - it's what you know that ain't so. I've been the unwitting victim to this, and I've seen enough other transactions to have come to the conclusion that people who deal in real estate without an expert fall into two categories: Those who know they got taken, and those who don't realize it yet. There are so many tricks and traps that get played upon the unwary that there is literally no way to write about all of them because new ones are invented continuously. You have to be someone who deals with these issues every day to have a prayer of realizing the pitfalls of some of them. Consider that if some trick motivates a buyer to pay 10% extra for a $500,000 property, that's $50,000 extra in the seller's pocket and out of yours. I've learned to question everything, and to ask, "What are the possible explanations for this?" Unless you're an agent yourself, you probably wouldn't believe the grief this saves my clients.

Number 2 Failure to Plan: A good agent has contingency planning in effect for everything, and those plans don't include permanent vacations in countries without extradition. If you're seeing all this stuff for the first time, how likely is that to happen? Even the second or the third? The reason I do so well for my clients is that I've got a solid plan from the time they contact me for the first time, and I have plans to deal with everything I don't control. This includes everything from if they get their hearts set on exactly the wrong property to negotiations before and after the contract to what happens if the inspection reveals something major, and how to lay the groundwork in case stubborn negotiating partners don't see it may way, or the universe decides to jump in with an unpleasant surprise . If you don't have this sort of plan, may I suggest you hire someone who does. Because failure to have a plan in place will cost you large amounts of money.

Number 1 Not Having a Strong Buyer's Agent. This is the first thing you need to shop for, before you so much as look at online listings. Have at least one in place before you look at any property, even new development. You want one who's going to go digging for both good and bad. There is no such thing as a perfect property, because if everything else is perfect, the price certainly won't be, and if you're only willing to settle for the perfect deal, you're either wasting your time or asking someone to take advantage of your ignorance. If you use the seller's agent, they have a fiduciary duty to present that property in the most favorable light. Given the choice between an agent pretending problems don't exist until the small print disclosures and an agent who fails to do their legal and contractual duty, which would you choose? If you don't like this choice, then you want to apply the information in How to Effectively Shop for a Buyer's Agent. Having a good buyer's agent will make more difference than anything else in your real estate experience.

Caveat Emptor


Over five hundred years ago in Europe, there was a con game that was more practiced than any other con game in the history of the world. It was simply the thing to try on the new rube in town. Someone would claim to be selling a suckling pig in a sack ("poche", from which we get "pocket" as the diminutive, as well as "pouch"). You have to understand the situation back then to appreciate what was going on. Suckling pig was tender, delicious meat, the sort that the average person of the time might only eat a few times in their life. Perhaps never, if they were poorer than average. It was highly sought after, and commanded quite a price, in terms of the average person's wages.

In reality, of course, what was in the pouch wasn't a pig at all, but rather a cat. Most modern Americans don't realize this, but "roof rabbit" was eaten back then, because the alternative was often starvation. Before potatoes were brought back from the New World, Europe did not find it easy to feed its population. Nonetheless, I'm given to understand cat meat is nasty disgusting stuff, a food of last resort, because cats are almost 100% carnivores. However, the victim of this scam didn't usually get to eat the cat, either, because they were expecting a pig, which was not nearly so nimble. As a result of this, when they opened the sack, the cat would escape. This con gave us three phrases that are very popular today: "Let the cat out of the bag," and "left holding the sack," as well as "Buy a pig in a poke."

So what if prospective buyers have a hard time viewing a property?

This isn't 500 years ago. People that have the financial resources to buy real estate in the United States today aren't likely to be that trusting. If they were, some alleged Nigerian millionaire would have relieved them of those resources. In fact, in advice given since at least 1530, people have been advised ""When ye proffer the pigge open the poke."


Why? Because if you don't, people are going to presume it's a cat (at best), and they're only going to offer what cat meat would be worth to them, which may not be anything. But if you show them that there really is a delicious suckling pig in the sack, they may be willing to pay the premium prices that suckling pig - or beautiful turnkey property - commands.

I don't know how many times I've gone over this with clients. People aren't looking for reasons to buy your property, they're looking for reasons not to buy your property, and, "They don't want to let me look at it," is more than sufficient reason to lose interest.

Does that have anything in common with the educated pig buyer? You bet it does. They wanted to see the pig, otherwise it was only worth the cat price (i.e. nothing unless they were starving, and then not much).

The entire process of real estate has evolved with inspections, appraisals, etcetera is precisely because the information possessed by the parties at the time of the contract is asymmetrical. That's fancy talk for the seller knows more than the buyer. The entire viewing and inspection idea has evolved from this basic fact, and the need to remedy most of the imbalance of information.

But if prospective buyers have a hard time being allowed to see the property, they are not going to make good offers. The idea is that there's probably a reason that seller won't let them look at the property, and they're most often right in that presumption.

Every time I start looking through MLS for property that might suit my buyer clients, I run across several of the stupidest ideas in real estate. I can handle one and usually two hour notices, but when someone asks for four, they're not likely to get it. I've got someone who wants to go look at property now, or wants me to go look at property now and get back to them on it, and I'm usually trying to shoehorn a few extras in while I'm in the neighborhood. If I can see your property, I might think it's worth my clients attention. If I can't, I definitely won't.

But four hour notices aren't anywhere near the worst: 24 hour notices are at least as common. In a way, I understand. Tenants can legally require 24 hour notice, but it's to my listing clients advantage to come up with some reason to cut that as far as possible. What are the tenants paying, $2000 per month or so? Offer to rent a storage locker for them and rebate some rent money, and your average tenant is going to agree so fast your head will spin. This kills the "I'm worried about them stealing my stuff!" angle as well. Always be ready and willing to show, and since every day the property doesn't sell not only adds carrying costs but means a (statistically) lower sales price, the money you spend generating cooperative tenants is a fantastic short term investment, better than anything short of a jackpot lottery win, and a lot more dependable.

That's not the worst, though. That dishonor goes to "property shown with accepted offer." Here we go with the cat thing again. The question that goes through my mind when one of my buyers asks about one of those is, "How bad could it be?" Why that question? Because the worst case scenario is precisely what the property is worth until the seller opens the "poke" and shows us the "pigge" instead of the cat or worse. Contingencies aren't going to cut it. Contingencies are for when you know a little bit and want to know more. In this instance, the buyer doesn't know anything, because they haven't seen it. The fact is that in the absence of any observational evidence, I figure there's a reason why the seller doesn't want us to know, and negotiate accordingly. Mind you, if you're willing to take a blind risk this can generate a fantastic bargain at the right time, with a seller who's ready to listen to reason about the effects of this upon value. But most aren't.

I can't blame the seller who doesn't understand this. The fact that they're clueless on this point is evidence of agent failure. This is one more way that agents "buy" listings and hurt their clients. Failing to make the client understand that showing restrictions lower perceptions of value as well as sales price is a major agent failure. Because the agent does not make certain the client understands the way that buyers approach properties, that agent is failing in their fiduciary duty, and their client will end up paying more money in carrying costs as well as getting a lower sales price because of it.

A while ago, I wrote an article on Top Ten Reasons Your Home Isn't Selling. It's no coincidence that talking about real estate in this context explicitly hits the three biggest reasons why real estate doesn't sell. Not only is it a direct instance of problem number three ("Showing Restrictions"), but by restricting showings the property becomes less valuable ("Price") and highlights a major shortcoming of the listing agent. And since these folks have won gold, silver and bronze medals in the "shooting yourself in the foot" event, may I suggest that after some appropriate time has passed, this may become a very lucrative desperation mine?

Caveat Emptor

"what happens to your equity when the bank forecloses" was a question I got.

The answer is that most, if not all, will be dissipated by the foreclosure.

Let's say you own a home currently valued at $500,000, that you owe $200,000 on it, and that you have a 6% loan. Now, for whatever reason, you can't make the payments, and for whatever reason, you don't sell while you have the opportunity before the trustee's auction.

In California, you are going to be four months behind before the Notice of Default happens. So that is four payments of $1200. Furthermore, when you are fifteen days late you owe a 4% penalty, or $48, and when you are thirty days late, the missed payments start accruing interest. So at the point that the Notice of Default is possible, you owe $204,777.83.

From Notice of Default to Notice of Trustee's Sale is another 60 days, but before that happens, the bank is going to hit you with $10,000 to $15,000 in administrative fees for going into default. Check your contract; it's in there. Let's say $12,000, and now you owe $216,777.

Add another two months of delinquent payments, and penalties as of 15 days after. So as of the time the Auction actually happens, you owe $219,447. Furthermore, to make the auction happen, they will charge you about another $15,000. This covers the expenses of making the auction happen, of which the most noteworthy is the appraisal. At this point, you owe $234,447.

The appraisal bears special mention. Not only is there zero pressure to get a good value, the bank wants that appraisal to come in nice and low. They want the property to sell at auction, and if nobody bids 90% of the appraisal price, then they own it and have to go through the rigamarole of hiring an agent and selling it. So that appraisal is going to come in as low as is reasonable, to maximize the chance of it selling at auction. Every once in a while questions about low appraisals at trustee sales hit the site. The short answer is Microsoft Standard: "It's not a bug, it's a feature!" and from the bank's point of view, it is. So even though the property might sell for $500,000 in the normal course of things, the appraisal might come in at $440,000, meaning that someone has to bid $396,000 in order to buy the property at auction. The appraisal might be even lower, but let's say $440,000.

If someone bids $396,000 at auction (assuming they actually are able to consummate the transaction), they own the property. Less transfer costs, the bank gets maybe $380,000, of which the note is now for $234,000, and $300,000 of equity has dropped to $146,000.

But that's not usually what happens. What's usually happened is that the owners have financed it out to at least $375,000, hoping to be able to stave off foreclosure, and by similar math, they now owe roughly $425,000. How much do they get when the bank only got $380,000?

If the property doesn't sell at auction, the bank now owns it. Now they have to hire a listing agent, and offer a cooperating buyer's broker percentage, and while the listing agent looks for a buyer, the money owed keeps earning interest. Let's say the property eventually sells for $410,000, and the bank spends 7 to 8 percent of that getting it sold, so that their net is maybe $380,000. Even if you originally owed $200,000, by the time everything is said and done, you might owe $250,000 or more, leaving perhaps $120,000 coming back to the original owner.

Now, if the owners were to short-circuit the whole process by selling successfully for that same $410,000 (almost 20% less than comparable properties might sell for) before the trustee's sale happens, and if they spend that same 7.5% to get it sold, they get about $380,000, of which they'll get to keep approximately $160,000, more than it is likely they will keep under the best possible outcome if the property went to trustee's sale.

So if you cannot afford your payments, and you're looking down the road at a trustee's sale, it is usually in your best interests to get the property sold before that happens. The lenders will generally be as accommodating as they reasonably can if you ask them and keep them in touch with what is going on. They don't make money on foreclosures; they don't want to foreclose. No Thanks to California's Home Equity Sales Contract Act, once the Notice of Default hits, you are unlikely to be able to do business with investors except on an "emergency sale for 60% of value" basis (that being about what the those "Cash for houses" folks offer), so the sooner you act, the more money you will likely come away with.

Caveat Emptor

(click for Part 1 of Save For A Down Payment or Buy Now?, which deals with the basic question of how well saving for a down payment increases affordability)

But suppose, instead of waiting because you can't afford the payments now, you buy a $250,000 condo now - and then sell it for your down payment later. In other words, you buy what you can afford right now instead of waiting and saving until you can have the home of your dreams. Then at some later time you sell the condo for the down payment on the home you really want.

Let's look at the trade-offs for the condo. I'm going to assume that the condo's equity is the sum total of the saving you are doing, and I'm going to manipulate rents until I get $833 per month cash flow difference (you $10,000 per year savings). This yields a monthly rent of $977.46. You can't rent $250,000 condos around here for $1000 per month, but we'll stick with the situation I figured even though the argument in favor of buying the condo is far stronger. Let's also assume it costs 7% of the value to sell the property, make allowances for property taxes, HOA fees, etcetera. It'd be a bear if I didn't already have the spreadsheet done, but here are the results:



Year
0
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
Value
$250,000.00
$262,500.00
$275,625.00
$289,406.25
$303,876.56
$319,070.39
$335,023.91
$351,775.11
$369,363.86
$387,832.05
$407,223.66
Monthly Rent
$977.46
$1,016.56
$1,057.22
$1,099.51
$1,143.49
$1,189.23
$1,236.80
$1,286.27
$1,337.72
$1,391.23
$1,446.88
Equity
0.00
15,431.56
31,674.53
48,772.18
66,770.15
85,716.58
105,662.21
126,660.56
148,768.08
172,044.30
196,552.03
Net Benefit
-17,500.00
-13,443.41
-9,518.73
-5,769.20
-2,244.10
1,000.56
3,901.27
6,386.11
8,373.86
9,772.91
10,480.08

Now, I have to admit this seems marginal. You've only got an extra $10,000 in your pocket after 10 years. So you sell the condo and buy your house, and plugging these numbers into the affordability spreadsheet improves the affordability of the house you really want by 8% in only 8 years. Nonetheless, this is 2.5 times the affordability increase afforded by investing the money.

Now let's consider the situation as it really exists. That $250,000 condo rents for about $1300, which makes a big difference to what you save. It's like taking the previous situation, and adding $322 per month to your investments as well. Here's the numbers for the condo, adding the investment, and coming up with a total.



Year
0
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
Value
$250,000.00
$262,500.00
$275,625.00
$289,406.25
$303,876.56
$319,070.39
$335,023.91
$351,775.11
$369,363.86
$387,832.05
$407,223.66
Rent
$1,300.00
$1,352.00
$1,406.08
$1,462.32
$1,520.82
$1,581.65
$1,644.91
$1,710.71
$1,779.14
$1,850.31
$1,924.32
Equity
0.00
15,431.56
31,674.53
48,772.18
66,770.15
85,716.58
105,662.21
126,660.56
148,768.08
172,044.30
196,552.03
Savings
$0
$4046.11
$8515.91
$13453.74
$18908.64
$24934.73
$31591.84
$38946.03
$47070.31
$56045.30
$65,960.08
eq+sav
$0.00
$19,477.67
$40,190.44
$62,225.92
$85,678.79
$110,651.31
$137,254.05
$165,606.59
$195,838.39
$228,089.60
$262,512.11

Now let's paste these last numbers into the affordability sheet and see what we get:



Year
0
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
available
$0.00
$19,477.67
$40,190.44
$62,225.92
$85,678.79
$110,651.31
$137,254.05
$165,606.59
$195,838.39
$228,089.60
$262,512.11
price of house
$500,000.00
$525,000.00
$551,250.00
$578,812.50
$607,753.13
$638,140.78
$670,047.82
$703,550.21
$738,727.72
$775,664.11
$814,447.31
payments
$3,631.97
$3,670.64
$3,709.34
$3,747.86
$3,786.00
$3,823.49
$3,864.42
$3,928.79
$3,993.62
$4,058.65
$4,123.58
affordability
1.00
1.02
1.04
1.06
1.08
1.10
1.12
1.14
1.15
1.17
1.18

So we see that this strategy has increased the affordability of the house you really want by 12% over only 6 years, holding background assumptions constant. This is twice again the affordability increase rate from the last example (2%/year as opposed to 1), and so almost five times the affordability increase rate of just saving for a down payment. Furthermore, those payments on your condo are mandatory, and the increases in value happen of their own accord, whereas most saving programs run by individuals falter a bit over time, nor is there any such thing as a 10% return per year tax free. In short, I'm comparing a real world real estate investment with a hopelessly idealized other investment. Saving for a down payment makes comparatively little sense unless you are not yet in a position to buy, either due to stability, insufficient income to buy anything, or because your situation does not permit 100% financing.

Taken all together, this forms a powerful argument for not waiting until you can afford your dream house, but buying what you can afford as soon as you are in a position to do so with the intention of trading up later. Delaying means you cut the later years off of the results, not the earlier. The benefits to real estate don't start until you put your foot on the ladder. If I had known this when I was in my twenties, I'd be millions of dollars better off today. So plan ahead, and start working towards your goals now. You can never go back in time with what your figure out later, or with the effort you expend later.

Caveat Emptor

An email asked a question I should have thought to answer a long time ago, and the answer may surprise a lot of folks. I've been vaguely aware of this for a couple of years, but I was amazed how strongly the numbers solidified my views!


My wife and I aren't ready to buy a property yet, but we are trying to plan how much to save for our down payment. You've mentioned that there's a spectrum from nothing down to 20+% down broken down by 5% increments, but how do you choose where to be on that spectrum? I can see that there are tradeoffs between the amount you have to save, the cost of your mortgage and the like, but I don't have a good way of thinking about those tradeoffs. And, since we're in the DELETED area, 20% down could easily get into the six figures, so it can be quite intimidating.

Given the way leverage works in even a slightly appreciating market, it is generally to your advantage to buy as soon as 1) You are sufficiently stable in your employment and expect that you're going to be in the area at least another three to five years, 2) You have enough of a reserve that the first minor bump in the road will not lead to disaster, and 3) You make enough to afford the payments. However, what usually happens is that people get a raise, a promotion, or a new job, or more often, they get married or have a baby and that is what sets their thinking on the road to buying a home.

Let's consider a $500,000 property and an 80% first trust deed with an appropriate piggyback 30 due in 15 second if needed, since that was generally returning more favorable rates than a Home Equity Line of Credit when I wrote this. Upon most recent revision, second mortgages weren't going above 90%, and 100% financing is difficult unless you're a veteran. Picking a random lender from a couple days ago and thirty year fixed rate loans, when I originally wrote this, I had 5.875 for about 9/10 of a point plus closing costs, or about $7100 total cost. But there are potential adjusters - and relevant to this situation, having subordinate financing for 100% CLTV adds one full discount point ($4000 in this case) to the first mortgage, or you can drop down to 6.25 for the same cost. 95% financing only adds 1/4 of a point in the same situation, or you can get a 6% even for the same cost. At or below 90% CLTV, there is no add to the first mortgage. If we're at 80% with a $100,000 (20%) down payment, the 5.875 first is all there is. Taking dead average credit scores (720) with this same lender, the closing costs are $500 (flat) when you do the second concurrently. 85% CLTV would be an 8% second on $25,000 for a down payment of $75,000 (15%) plus closing costs. 90%CLTV would be $50,000 down payment (10%) and leave you with a $50,000 second at 7.375%, benefiting from a bump down in rate for hitting a certain dollar value. 95% CLTV requires a $25,000 down payment and leaves you with a $75,000 second at 7.75%. 100% CLTV (no down payment) leaves you with a $100,000 second at 8%. It would be 8.25, but you've hit another economy of scale break point.

Here's a table:





CLTV

80

85

90

95

95

100

100

1st TD

5.875

5.875

5.875

5.875

6.000

5.875

6.25

2nd TD

n/a

8.00

7.375

7.75

7.75

8.00

8.00

Cost

$7100

$7600

$7600

$8600

$7600

$11600

$7600

1st pay

$2366.16

$2366.16

$2366.16

$2366.16

$2398.21

$2366.16

$2462.87

2nd pay

$0

$183.45

$345.34

$537.31

$537.31

$733.77

$733.77

interest

$1958.33

$2125.00

$2265.63

$2442.71

$2484.38

$2625.00

$2750.00


So you see that having a down payment is a very good thing. Now this is for a fairly ideal situation. If you are in a stated income situation, the rates are slightly higher and step somewhat more steeply, and currently, 80% loan ot value for stated income is the highest anyone is going. If your credit is significantly below average, the rates start higher and step up more steeply still. It gets rough if both apply.

However, this doesn't take place in a vacuum. Let's say you can save $10,000 per year, and earn 10% tax free on what you save. But while you do, housing prices are still going up. Let's assume 5% per year on average. We will also assume that you can get a 6% for the first and 8% for the second whenever you buy, and that taxes at 1.2% of value per year, here's the projected situation:






Year

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

down

$0.00

$10,500.00

$22,050.00

$34,755.00

$48,730.50

$64,103.55

$81,013.91

$99,615.30

$120,076.83

$142,584.51

$167,342.96

price

$500,000.00

$525,000.00

$551,250.00

$578,812.50

$607,753.13

$638,140.78

$670,047.82

$703,550.21

$738,727.72

$775,664.11

$814,447.31

CLTV

100.00%

100.00%

100.00%

95.00%

95.00%

90.00%

90.00%

90.00%

85.00%

85.00%

80.00%

payments

$3,631.97

$3,736.52

$3,842.45

$3,949.44

$4,057.11

$4,165.04

$4,272.73

$4,379.60

$4,484.99

$4,588.14

$4,694.16


Where payments is the total of mortgage and monthly tax payment pro-rated when you buy. Examining that column, we see that this is an argument against waiting. In fact, assuming a 3% (compounded) raise per year, the property is only 4% more affordable in year 10 with a $167,000 down payment! This neglects rises in rents and other costs of living!

(Here is Part 2 of Save For A Down Payment or Buy Now?, which tells one way to increase affordability more and faster)


For at least the last thirty years, I've been hearing "affordable housing" advocates yammer about the high cost of housing, and how working families can no longer afford "decent" housing, which they apparently consider to be the three or four bedroom, two bathroom detached home. They go on and on about what is necessary to create more of this type of housing and our "moral obligation" to create more of it. Against this, we have their actual actions, politically allying with forces that make housing more expensive by constricting the supply.

Newsflash: Making business difficult for suppliers of a good does not lower the price nor improve the availability of that good.

Who does artificial constriction of the housing supply hurt?

Certainly not developers. The price of the actual permits, last I checked was in the $20,000 per unit range. But the decreases and constrictions and delays in supply add something like $160,000 to the price tag of that same unit. The people who want housing are here. If the demand is there and the supply isn't, what does that do to price? Oh, those poor developers! They're being hurt to the tune of $140,000 additional profit for each unit they build. Please, Brer Fox, don't throw me into that briar patch! To stay within the genre, trying to harm developers in this sort of fashion is a tar baby for those trying to do it.

It sure as heck doesn't hurt the wealthy, either. They can afford housing. Matter of fact, the constriction of supply makes their real estate investments appreciate more rapidly. Increasing demand and regulatory brakes on the ability to furnish supply is pretty much the recipe for rising prices. Furthermore, this encourages speculation, driving bubbles like the ones that we just went through. It wasn't the wealthy that got hurt by that bubble. It was the folks who could just barely qualify and the people who stretched more than they should have or told fibs in order to qualify. Who was that? It certainly wasn't the wealthy. High end housing was the first to start sitting longer, because the wealthy weren't worried about getting priced out.

It certainly doesn't hurt current owners, who ride the price wave in the same manner as the wealthy investors, if not quite to the same level of profit. Anytime the ratio of demand to supply rises, so does price, and anyone who already owns benefits. These are folks well-established in life for the most part, along with high income individuals and those who inherited wealth. Sound like anyone who needs to be getting what is effectively a public subsidy?

So who does keeping the supply of housing low hurt the worst?

The young. People just getting started out. People who won't get started for another fifteen years, by which time current housing prices will seem like the Golden Age. Every time there's a new household but no new housing, the price goes up. We're going to keep gaining new households, and I don't see enough new housing on the horizon. You do the math.

Transplants coming from where housing is cheaper. Even if they own a $100,000 house free and clear, that's only a 20% down payment on $500,000. Lots of San Diegans seem to have an attitude about transplants - but most of them are themselves transplants. The question of "who is a transplant?" is very much a question of where you draw the line. Speaking as a second generation native, my take is let's just trash the whole transplant prejudice thing. People want to live here. Providing they're in the country legally, they have the same rights to do so that my family and I do. We can create the housing for them, or we can create shortages, which lead to higher prices and unaffordable housing for everyone.

The working poor. Yes, the very people the affordable housing folks claim they want to help. But keeping the supply low, delaying the arrival of more units onto the market while keeping others from happening at all, is a recipe for rising prices. A couple making $15 per hour each makes just over $5000 per month, which translates to about $2300 they can afford for housing and all their debts. Assuming they have no other payments, that's a purchase price of a little over $300,000. That might buy a severe fixer detached home or a condo in decent shape. What happens the next time they need to buy a car? Unless they're one of the rare folks who still manage to put money aside every month, they have to consolidate the car loan with their mortgage in order to afford it. Ditto any other sudden expenses. This is the opening movement to a symphony of financial disaster.

I know that the political alliances in this country have gotten completely nonsensical, but it's past time for affordable housing advocates to break away from the same party that houses the anti-development and anti-business activists. Yes, ACORN, I'm looking at you (among many others), with your "retain voter registrations of your favorite party, trash registrations of their opposition" drives (blatantly illegal, by the way, and this isn't the only such story by any means). Never mind what's the matter with Kansas, I want to know what's the matter with affordable housing activists. By any reasonable measure, they're making the problem worse with their political alliances, by supporting the agenda of their natural antithesis. If their game is to actually make housing more affordable, most of them are miserable failures at what they say they're working towards.

Of course, if the game is to make the problem worse, so that people have no choice but to deal with these organizations as supposedly the only hope of the working poor, thereby increasing their own power, these organizations are doing just fine. Trojan horses for empire building are one of the classic recipes for political success.

Caveat Emptor

A while ago a reader gave me a heads up that Illinois HB 4050 was hurting residents of certain poverty stricken Illinois Zip Codes. Now I have to pick on our own state:

California law generally requires special handling of sales transactions to protect homeowners in foreclosure. This law, called the Home Equity Sales Contract Act, generally applies to transactions that meet all of the following four conditions: the property is one-to-four family dwelling units; the owner occupies one of the units as his or her principal place of residence; there is an outstanding notice of default recorded; and the buyer will not use the property as a personal residence. The Home Equity Sales Contract Act does not apply if one of these four conditions is unmet. If, for example, a seller occupies a property in foreclosure, but the buyer will be occupying the property as his or her personal residence, the home equity sales law does not apply.

If all four conditions are met, however, the buyer must use a home equity sales contract, such as the C.A.R. standard form "Notice of Default Purchase Agreement" and attachments. This agreement gives the seller, among other things, a five-day right to rescind the contract. Furthermore, the home equity purchaser cannot be represented by an agent. More accurately stated, the law requires a buyer's agent to be bonded by an admitted surety insurer, but C.A.R. is unaware of any insurer currently offering the bond.

Actual Code Here

This is so brain damaged it has to be the idea of some clueless person out to save the world without first stopping to consider the Hippocratic Injunction to "First, do no harm."

Now, in the business, the term "equity sale" or "equity purchase" is most commonly used in conjunction with a sale subject to existing trust deeds. So this is a significantly different meaning to a similar phrase. Keep in mind that there are four conditions that need to be met:

1. Residential property (1-4 units)
2. Owner occupies one unit
3. Notice of default recorded
4. Buyer does not intend to occupy.

But what happens with such properties? Who buys them? Investors, that's who. Guess what? The owners want them sold! What happens if they don't sell? They go to auction, and the owner basically gets nothing, whether the property sells at auction or it doesn't, in which case the lender now owns it.

Furthermore, they're requiring that the buyer's agent have a bond that is not available, and has not been for ten years. So if whether they're working with a shark or with an investor who is actually going to give the people a decent price, the buyer's agent cannot be compensated. So what are most buyer's agents going to do? Answer: Wait until after the trustee's sale! As the buyer's agent, they have no fiduciary responsibility to that seller, and no ability to get paid. But the owner wants to sell before the trustee's sale. The chances of them getting anything from a trustee's sale or afterwards are about equal to one my grandfathers giving birth to triplets.

Now, this does theoretically create an opportunity for certain people who might be willing to live in the property to buy for lower prices, since investors are (mostly) out of the picture. So we are robbing Peter (the current owners) to pay Paul (in search of new housing). There are also some truly outstanding issues. What happens if my buyer client is lying to me about whether they intend to live there? The contract is already written, the terms of the transaction set, and the buyer's agent can't back out at the last minute when they change their mind about whether they're going to live there. Also, what happens if everything is fine when the contract is written, but the lender drops a Notice of Default on the sellers the day we're set to close?

In the current market, most of the folks in default do not have large amounts of equity. Matter of fact, the typical seller who is delinquent is really hoping that the lender will sign off on a Short Payoff. This is not shark investors swooping in and buying granny's $500,000 property for $80,000. With the number of people there are pushing Reverse Annuity Mortgages, that's not going to be the case any time in the foreseeable future. Granny can get a RAM, after which she can last long enough to sell for a good price. Instead, what's going on is that the properties are going to foreclosure, costing the lenders more money, adding to the fees the owners pay, and lengthening the odds against the current owners coming out of the situation with anything. They want buyer's agents on the job, finding these bargains for their clients so that the sale gets made before the trustee's sale. Keep in mind that the seller is always allowed an agent, and the seller can always say "no," to the offer. Which is preferable: Not getting as much as you might have gotten for a sale under ideal conditions, or getting nothing?

Henry David Thoreau had some words on this situation:

If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life, as from that dry and parching wind of the African deserts called the simoom, which fills the mouth and nose and ears and eyes with dust till you are suffocated, for fear that I should get some of his good done to me -- some of its virus mingled with my blood. No -- in this case I would rather suffer evil the natural way.

Caveat Emptor


Some Lenders have removed declining market notation for San Diego.

Since 95% loans are now readily available without a government program, demand is up and unfortunately, so are rates.

The Best Loans Right NOW

6.25% 30 Year fixed rate loan, with one total point to the consumer and NO PREPAYMENT PENALTIES!. Assuming a $400,000 loan, Payment $2462, APR 6.389! This is a thirty year fixed rate loan. The payment and interest rate will stay the same on this loan until it is paid off! 30 year fixed rate loans as low as 5.375 percent!

5/1 Rates will save you a lot of money!

Best 5/1 ARM: 5.625% with 1 total point to the consumer, and NO PREPAYMENT PENALTIES! Assuming a $400,000 loan, Payment $2302 APR 5.759. This is a fully amortized loan with a fixed rate for the first five years. 5/1 ARM rates as low as 5 percent!

10 year interest only payments available on 30 year fixed rate loans!

Great Rates on temporary conforming, jumbo and super-jumbo loans also available!

Zero closing costs loans also available!

Yes, I still have 100% financing (full documentation) and stated income loans!

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

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

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

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

100% financing a specialty.

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

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


With a few lenders starting to loosen their requirements slightly in San Diego, it's becoming increasingly obvious that the bottom is behind us. However, the issue has now become, "I don't have much of a down payment. How do I buy now so I can get into something before the market goes crazy again?"

There are several programs that exist that enable buyers to lower their down payment requirements. All of them have their limitations, but if you can jump through their hoops, they remove the need to save for a huge down payment.

The first of these are VA Loans. Right now, VA loans are the magic bullet. No down payment requirement, and you can even finance closing costs up to 3% on top of the purchase price right into the loan. Furthermore, there is not only no PMI, but the VA only charges a half point to fund the loan, and that's waived with 10% or larger disability. Additionally, the conforming limit with VA loans is no longer applicable - I've had wholesalers tell me they would accept VA loans up to (potentially) $1.5 million dollars. There are no income limits, either, but you do have to qualify full documentation. However, because there's no PMI, no need to split loans, and no ongoing charges for the loan, by debt to income ratiopeople with VA loan eligibility can afford almost ten percent larger loans than people applying for FHA loans, and about twenty percent larger loans than high loan to value conventional conforming loans (Below 80% loan to value ratio, conventional loans will most likely have a lower tradeoff between rate and cost). The biggest drawback is that you have to have served in the military or be serving, something comparatively few people do as opposed to former times. San Diego is a military town, and I've only dealt with one VA loan in the last year or so. It was formerly true that FICO credit score was not considered in VA loan qualification, but this has changed in the last year or so. How low a credit score they will work with is up to individual lender policy. Some lenders want a minimum of 580, others won't talk to you unless you've got a 680. The higher their qualification standards, of course, the lower the rate/cost tradeoff they offer will typically be.

Best of all from a longer term standpoint, because there is no seller participation needed in the VA loan program, it doesn't matter whether the seller is willing to do extra things in order to get the property sold. This means you aren't constricted in which property you choose, and it does enable you to end up with a better bargain on the property of your choice.

Many locally based first time buyer programs take the form of loaning you a down payment. If you're buying a $300,000 property and the city you're buying in will loan you $60,000 for the down payment (usually in the form of a silent second), then you only need a $240,000 regular loan, which leaves you with an 80% loan to value ratio, and you are then able to qualify for a classic conforming A paper loan on your property. The drawbacks of these programs are two. First, budgetary constraints. As of a couple weeks ago, all the local municipalities were out of money for these until the new allocation comes in (usually in the fall and spring). If there's no money left in the budget when you want to apply, you're not going to get one. Second, income limits. These all have income limits, which vary with the program and municipality. Since like all other government programs you have to qualify for these via full documentation of income and proving you make enough for the payments via income tax forms, this can disqualify you or severely constrict what you qualify for, and the various municipal governments do put other strings on these programs. Nonetheless, the Cities of San Diego, El Cajon, and Santee have these programs in place, as does the County of San Diego for unincorporated areas, as well as administering the same program for Lemon Grove, Imperial Beach, Poway, and many other cities. Like VA loans, because there's no need for sellers to contribute to these financially, buyers who use these don't end up paying for it in the purchase price of their property, or by a limited selection of sellers with the wherewithal.

FHA Loans are not, in their basic form, a zero down payment program. They will only allow up to 97% of the purchase price. Furthermore, they charge a point and a half upfront and half a percent annualized per year for financing insurance. The good news is that you're still getting a very low down payment loan with comparatively low cost financing insurance. This is a government program, so you have to qualify via full documentation of income, and many properties are not eligible for FHA financing. The FHA also keeps what is functionally a blacklist, so you can find out that because your real estate agent, loan officer, etcetera contributed to fraud some time back, this particular transaction is not going to fly FHA. The FHA does allow seller paid closing costs of up to six percent, but if you think you're not going to pay for this via increased sales price, I've got some beachfront land in Florida. That means higher cost of interest, higher property taxes, and less equity if you sell or refinance. Furthermore, not every seller is going to be willing or able to work with people who want seller contribution for closing costs.

Down payment assistance programs are targeted at FHA loans, providing the 3% down payment via a reciprocal loan paid back by the seller at close of escrow, although FHA is not the only loan type they work with. Once again, not every property owner is going to be willing or able to work with these programs, and if you think the money that sellers furnish for these programs doesn't result in a higher sales price, I own a bridge in Brooklyn I'm willing to sell on very reasonable terms. More than the amount of the loan you get, because they're offering something not everyone can. You have to be careful to disclose everything to everybody in these situations, and the purchase offer and subsequent counters have to be written very carefully.

Seller carrybacks are comparatively rare right now, as few sellers have significant equity. The ones who do and want to sell are likely to be able to wait until things get better, and so most of them are. Asking for a carryback is a major request on a purchase contract, because if that seller loans you $X, those dollars are not available for them to use purchasing their next property, or whatever investment they wanted to put the money into - they're still tied up in this one. Sellers willing and able to offer a carryback can command premium pricing, even in this sort of market, because many buyers will have exactly two choices: buy this property, or don't buy anything. They are also assuming a significant risk of non-payment and ending up in second position on a non-performing debt, which can cause them to lose every dollar they have invested.

Finally, as of a few days ago, some lenders are once again willing to go 95% loan to value ratio for conventional conforming A paper loans, where before that the down payment requirements were ten to fifteen percent. There will be PMI, you are required to qualify full documentation, and the limit is the "regular" conforming limit of $417,000 as opposed to the "jumbo conforming" or "temporary" limits ($697,500 in San Diego). But once again, you can do this with basically any residential property that's not too expensive, and the seller needn't be willing and able to financially contribute to the loan. There are a lot of properties out there that FHA will not touch, no matter how helpful the seller is willing to be. As long as it's an inhabitable residential structure meeting requirements, conforming loans will potentially work - if you've got 5% down. Nor do they require that the seller be willing and able to help out. 5% down is not usually a huge amount. For example, a couple each borrowing $10,000 from retirement accounts (as allowed by the rules) has a downpayment of 5% of $400,000, which buys a pretty decent place nowadays.

As you can see, there are drawbacks to all of these, as well as advantages. You would be well advised to consider an agent who is also a loan officer, because everything from the initial offer onwards has to be carefully written to remain within the limits of what lenders will work with and will fund. More than once I've had people come to me forty-five days into a thirty day escrow where the only way to make it happen was start by renegotiating the contract. Since the sellers were completely frustrated at this point and just wanted out, needless to say it didn't happen. So there is a limit to the ability to repair incorrectly written purchase contracts. Nonetheless, these options are there, are available, and I have funded loans on them in the past. Given the current state of the market and its likely state a year or two from now, making use of them can mean that you're going to end up much better off than waiting to save that down payment. If the market appreciates in value ten to fifteen percent between now and whenever you have enough for a "normal" down payment, you definitely didn't help your cause by waiting.

Caveat Emptor


Quite a lot of the time when I view a property, I get requests for feedback.

Usually it's an automated email. Other times, it's some office assistant who wants to fax me a form which will "only take a few minutes of your time".

The point of these, and the various other methods that get used, is to shift the burden of the work they should be doing from the listing agent, which is where it needs to be, to other people. Basically, my competition is asking me to do their job for them. The only time I will respond to requests for feedback is if the agent involved will spend at least as much of their own personal time as it takes for me to provide the feedback. In other words, the agent - not their flunky - has got to listen to me talk, and then write it down themselves. If they start arguing with me, it's no longer a request for feedback, it's a sales call. But in any other circumstances, they're telling me this feedback is not important enough to justify their time, so why should it justify mine? I don't have any responsibility to their client; they do.

The point of both of these, and three or four other methods that get used, is to pressure their listing clients to drop the price. Many offices have multiple employees gathering this information, the idea of which is to get the client to lower the price because the agent didn't do it in the first place. They get the listing by promising a price they know they can't get, and then use the feedback information to hammer the client into reducing the price. This is actually two cardinal sins in one action, and I'll be damned if I'm going to help these slimeballs not only hose their clients, but also take listings away from good agents doing their fiduciary duty by failing to do that duty. This should also tell you how good an agent who uses their great feedback system as a major selling point is likely to be. Agents who know the market don't need a feedback system.

This whole rigamarole is easily avoidable by the agent doing the job they agreed to by accepting the listing.

Here's the way it should work: Agent knows the market. Agent persuades listing client to put an appropriate asking price on the property before it hits the market. Listing gathers lots of traffic, who like what they see. Appropriate offers come in, negotiations ensue, a contract is agreed upon, escrow is opened, and the transaction is consummated. Everybody emerges happy. Time elapsed: under thirty days from listing to contract, under sixty to completion. The only hard part is the pricing and staging discussions with the client, at least a week before it hits MLS. By accepting the conflict then and doing their job in the first place, the agent avoids a lot of problems that will happen later if they do not. Furthermore, the client emerges from the successful transaction not only happier, but objectively better off in that they get more money from a quicker transaction.

Here's the way these problems start: Instead of the above situation, an agent doesn't know the market the property sits in. Maybe they work across town in a different suburb. People decide to list with an agent whose office is near their office for convenience. Unfortunately, that's twenty or thirty miles away from the neighborhood they live in, and the agent might be vaguely aware that the area the property is in actually exists. They have no clue what the market in that neighborhood is like. An agent from twenty miles away is one of the best predictors I know of a mis-priced property. They have no idea of the market in the immediate area. I was just in a very nice property today priced $110,000 more than a very comparable property two blocks away. It's got an extra 3/4 bath, the comparable has a nice California room. The comparable has been on the market for months, and it's only $30,000 overpriced. This should give you an idea how badly overpriced the newer listing is. The listing office is way up in Carlsbad. Big Mistake on the part of the homeowner, and it's going to cost them.

More importantly than market knowledge, the agent didn't do the most important part of their job.

Here's what happens: Homeowners are usually quite proud of their property, and they understandably want the highest possible price for it. They see high asking prices, and they think they should be able to get them. Few members of the general public understand the relationship between the market, asking price, and sales price, not to mention how long it takes to sell. So when they interview agents, they're looking for the agent that will promise the highest sales price.

Here's the issue behind that: How does the client know if the price an agent says they can get is real and deliverable? The answer is that they don't. Ladies and gentlemen, I get paid on commission. I'd like to be able to get $2 million for a tiny condo in The 'Hood. The fact is that buyers choose to make offers upon the property that appears to be the best bargain for their needs and desires. The entire idea of listing and marketing the property is to attract the attention of the buyer whose needs and desires that property meets better than any of the available competing properties. Yeah, there's an element of seducing the buyer into liking the property more so they will pay a higher price. But like a lover, an agent can never seduce two people at once, so if they're seducing the seller they're not seducing the buyer. Not successfully, anyway.

So what a bad agent does is promise whatever sales price they think will get the owner to sign that listing contract. As soon as they've got the contract, they start planning ways to get the owner to decrease the asking price.

What's the harm in that, you ask? Those buyers they are trying to appeal to look at the property online. They see that too high price, and decide they're not interested. The buyers who do come by see that they can get something better for the same price so they make offers on the other property. Thirty days out, pretty much everyone on the market has decided they're not interested, and new buyers coming onto the market see that it's been on the market for over a month and their first question is, "What's wrong with it?" They don't want to go look at it. A good buyer's agent like me might be able to talk them into seeing it if the agent sees a bargain, but they don't see a bargain because it's overpriced. In order to lure the buyers back, you've got to cut the asking price to below what you could have gotten if you had priced it correctly in the first place. Otherwise, you're waiting for months until people like me think you might be willing to negotiate to something advantageous for my clients, and that's going to end up even worse for you. Meanwhile, whatever reason you wanted to sell the property is on hold. Being hammered by your agent to lower the price, you get so desperate that you'll take offers you would have trashed when the property first hit the market.

Here's the cute part, if you're one of these agents: Because these properties eventually do sell, and lots of people fall for this trick, that sleazeball looks like a "top producer." They've always got a large number of listings in the pipeline, Waiting for Godot. When one of them finally has the price dropped far enough, it sells. Since in the production metric used by the real estate industry, they are getting their 3% of lots of different properties, they're doing great for themselves and it appears that they're successful - precisely the sort of agent many people look for. In reality, their clients end up hurting. A freshly minted licensee who approaches the listing correctly will reliably achieve results superior to this.

Unless you're basically an agent yourself, the pricing discussion should be difficult. There is a fundamental tension between the desire to get the highest possible price for a property and the need to price it competitively with other properties. If a prospective listing agent does not understand this, ditch them. If this tension is resolved easily, there are two possibilities. Far more common of the two is that the agent isn't doing their job. They could be ignorant of the market, or they could be seducing you into a listing contract by talking a Bigger Better Deal that they cannot deliver upon. There really isn't much difference. The other possibility is very rare around here, although it was more common when prices were going up like crazy: The homeowner doesn't try to overprice the property.

How can a homeowner deal with this issue? The only foolproof way is to really understand your competition - the other comparable properties for sale in your area. You also need to know about the properties that have actually sold, because it's not uncommon that some idea of inflated value creeps into a neighborhood, and all of the properties sit on the market unsold until they figure it out, while the next tract over is selling a little bit better. Since it's unlikely that the new owners are going to allow you to view their recent purchase, you're pretty certain to be at an information disadvantage.

Keep in mind, however, that the pricing discussion should be difficult. If it's not, there's probably something wrong. Furthermore, unless you're Martha Stewart, the "what to do so it shows well" discussion is likely going to be uncomfortable as well. Remember that it's for your advantage. I'm trying to make you more money, faster, by making your property more appealing to buyers. If the agent doesn't tell you how to clean it up and get rid of the clutter and make certain it stays presentable, that tells you that everything is either already perfect (unlikely) or that they're shying away from telling uncomfortable truths you need to hear. This is never a good sign in an agent.

Avoid listing agents who don't work your area consistently. If their office is more than ten miles away from your property, they're not likely to be a good agent for you. I am willing to list properties outside my area, but I am very upfront that it's going to take me a few days to size up the competition and the recent sales before I'm ready for the pricing discussion. An agent from further away who doesn't make a point of telling you this is dangerous to your pocketbook. My website tells people where I make a habit of working, and by extension, where I do not. Theirs should do the same thing. My website also talks about bargain properties in La Mesa and the nearby communities where I work. This is further evidence that I really do work that market.

The pricing discussion is important, and getting it right in the first place will reliably put more money in your pocket sooner than overpricing it. The agents who won't face the uncomfortable task of persuading you to price the property properly in the first place are not agents you will be happy with later. Keep searching until you find an agent who will work for your best interests, even if it risks irritating you.

Caveat Emptor

This is something that often happens with highly appreciated properties where the owner can no longer keep up the payments, they get hit with a notice of default, and along comes Joe or Jane seemingly riding to the rescue on a noble white steed, offering to buy the owner out of the property "subject to" existing deeds of trust.

This is a terrific position for the buyer to be in, and a rotten position for the seller. Nor are the prices usually very good for the seller - that white knight usually ends up looking a lot more like a thief. So why does it happen? Why does the seller agree to it?

Here they are sitting on this highly appreciated asset, with loads of theoretical equity, and they cannot make the payments. If they go through the foreclosure process, chances are better of flying to the moon by flapping your arms than of getting any of the equity back out. Yes, in California it's got to sell for at least 90% of appraised value or it doesn't sell at auction, in which case the lender owns it. But those appraisals are intentionally low, because the lenders don't want to own them. Furthermore, all of the payments that weren't made, and the interest on them, all gets piled into the loan, as do fees for the default process and the trustees sale. If you have a mortgage loan, read your contract. Sight unseen, I'll bet you a penny there's a clause in there saying they can sock you for "reasonable" fees in the event of default or foreclosure.

So you have a $450,000 property which you paid $120,000 for and owe $320,000 on, but something has happened and now you can't make the payments. You put it on the market for $450,000 and don't get any takers. Then along comes someone and says, "I'll take over your payments and pay you $20,000 if you sign the property over to me."

This is certainly a gray area, legally. The loans have "due on sale" clauses, and the lender can call the notes as due in full in such situations. The buyer basically tells them, "tough", knowing that if they foreclose, the lender ends up in the situation they didn't want to be in in the first place, of owing the property, not to mention that the person who bought "subject to" can cost them a lot more money by delaying it in court. Meanwhile, if they don't act quite so hard-nosed, this new owner is making the payments. They have the option of refusing the payments, but then we're dealing with the foreclosure process, and in the meantime, the checks for payment are there every month. What do you think most lenders will do? They will accept the payments!

Notice, however, that I didn't say the payments get there on time. This is the second raw deal that the seller has to swallow. The buyer's cash flow is a little tight, and the payment gets there 40 days late on a consistent basis. Who gets marked late? Whose credit gets dinged every time this happens? Not the buyer's. That buyer never applied for a loan with that lender on that property, the lender doesn't have their signature on a contract that says, "I agree to pay..." It's the seller's credit that gets hit. Kind of a nice situation to be in, no? Make a late payment any time you feel like it and your credit doesn't suffer! Not only that, but since the loan is still in the seller's name, the payments don't hit the buyer's debt to income ratio, allowing them to qualify for more loans, with larger payments, than they really should. Trying to leverage their investments like that is one reason why the folks who make a habit of "subject to" deals usually have tight cash flow. They don't want to let the property go into default, but as long as they don't get to the stage of being 120 days late (90 in some places), they have the best of all possible worlds!

Suppose, for whatever reason, it becomes a short sale? Well, since the seller is the one that violated the loan contract, there will be recourse on them, not the buyer. Many times the buyer makes side deals for "pay me" type stuff and manages to make money, or at least get their money back, even though the property doesn't sell for enough to pay off the existing liens.

If you are getting the idea that agreeing to a "subject to" deal isn't the smartest thing in the world, why do buyers agree to them?

Desperation and Panic. They listened to the agent that told them that they could get more money than was likely by market conditions, or they listed with the cheap bump on a log agency that really doesn't do anything to market the property, or they just sat in denial until far too late. Nothing happens instantly in real estate; it always takes several weeks at a minimum to get a property sold, even if you get a fantastic offer on the very first day. In some cases, I can get a loan done in one or two days, but that's not a situation you want to be in, because I don't know anyone who won't charge more in such a situation, and all of the usual loan caveats apply. But for whatever reason, the owners let the situation go too long, let themselves get behind the power curve, and suddenly realize that they are not going to catch up. They are looking at losing the property and getting nothing, so they panic. This is only one of the many reasons why staying ahead of the situation in real estate is so important. At the point where you're looking foreclosure square in the face ten days from now, there's not much else that can be done. I can offer you entire supertankers full of sympathy, and it won't make any difference. So if you're in this kind of situation, get the property on the market quick, price it attractively, and find an agent who will market it effectively, so that you avoid getting into the situation where the shark's offer is the best one you're going to get.

Caveat Emptor

(Note: As of the time I updated this, the website of the company was off-line. I do not know why and a casual perusal of search engine results is uninformative)

If that title seems to be damning with faint praise, it's accurate. I'm not going to issue any kind of blanket endorsement for them, but they aren't as bad as I feared when I first heard about them. They are definitely not something that will actually benefit most property owners, no matter how attractive the idea is.

Here's the press release: California Company Announces 'No Mortgage Payment for 12 Months'. Basically, they are promising a period of no payments that can be as little as three months or as long as 36.

So I called and checked them out. I can't find any evidence of the sort of attitude that are present in people who make a habit of selling negative amortization loans, and no evidence of legal shenanigans either (although I'd want to do more research before selling it myself, as I may do in March 2007 when they broaden the availability to brokers).

What appears to be going on is this: You refinance for an amount of money that covers not only what you need for pay off current bills, your current mortgage, put whatever cash in your pocket, etcetera, but also the prospective payments for however many months. The payments are based upon the increased amount, of course! Also, because it's for a larger amount, and hence, underwritten based upon a higher Loan to Value Ratio, as well as possibly Debt to Income Ratio (due to the higher principal amount), it might bump you down one or more categories in the quality of loan, and there will very probably be increased costs attributed to the increased loan amount, including addditional adjustment charges and the fact that these are always cash out refinances, might bump your costs half a point or possibly even more.

The excess goes into an escrow account, administered by a third party, where it earns interest while disbursing the monthly payments to the lender. The account has to be funded with enough to pay principal and interest for however many months you want to be free from payments, of course, and if you're expecting it to earn as much interest as it is costing you, well, I have a bridge in Brooklyn you might be interested in...

It appears that you can attach one of these to basically any loan from any lender. The only requirement is that the period of fixed payments has to be at least equal to the amount of time you want free from having to make payments. This is a very different thing from period of fixed interest rates, and the person I talked to on the phone offered me a negative amortization loan to go with it. I was quite proud of myself for being polite to him after that.

While I was on the phone, I did some price comparison between what's available to me and what they offered. I gave them a scenario of an 80% loan of $280,000 for a 720 credit score on a thirty year fixed rate loan. When I originally wrote this, I had 5.75 with one point total; they were talking about 5.875 with one and a quarter to one and a half points, although they were pretty slippery about being locked into any kind of actual quote. Considered in the context of the loan I was talking about, that's about an extra $1400 up front, not considering any possible junk fees, and approximately another $440 per year for what is otherwise the same loan. But even if they inflated that at signing by some reasonably standard amount, it's better than a lot of the other loans people are being sold right now.

Yes, it's higher than what I have available. Actually, I expected the difference to be higher. They are not selling great rates at a low cost with this program. What are they selling? Freedom from responsibility! Free Money (or so people think)! No mortgage payments for a year! Let the Good Times Roll!

I've kvetched enough about negam loans, and these really aren't any different in principle, but there is a large difference of degree. The underlying loans really are no different at the root from whatever type of loan you might care to name. At least if you make the underlying loan a good one, you're not being raked over the coals for 8% when you can have less than 6.

This program is, however, taking example of the fact that many people don't think of equity as "real money." But if you wanted to do one in conjunction with a purchase, you'd have to make a down payment at least to match the deferred payments. Is that money "real" enough for you? If you sold the property instead or refinanced for the cash out to make those payments, that money would be in your pocket instead. Is that "real" enough for you?

What does it cost? from their website


5. What is the cost for 12MoDef?
MPD, Inc. will submit a demand to Escrow for the 12MoDef service fee. The fee is $995 for 12 month deferral, $1495 for 24 month deferral or $1995 for 36 month deferral. This cost is typically paid by the borrower.

So in addition to all the regular costs for the loan, and of course, setting aside the equity to make the payments, and the increased interest costs down the line due to your loan amount increasing, this costs $1000 to $2000. I keep saying this, but I was expecting worse.

I am not enamored of some of the marketing tricks they are using to sell these, either. from their website


Miller notes that for clients close to retirement age, the freedom of 12MoDef, allows them to take advantage of "maxing out" their 401K contributions as well.

This must be some new definition of "advantage" with which I was previously unacquainted. Given their logic, this being for short term additional savings just prior to retirement, you're not adding that much, due to the short term nature of the issue in investment terms, you only have only a short period to compound, and in fact, the last time I checked, NASD rules specifically prohibited a licensed investment firm accepting your money in such circumstances. Not to mention it increases your future housing cash-flow requirements by more than the increase in your monthly income might reasonably be. After hauling out a spreadsheet, I couldn't find a reasonable scenario that worked, both in the sense of expected return and being sufficiently low risk to literally "bet the farm" on.

Delay is Denial digging you in deeper. If you can't afford the payments for the house you are living in, you probably need to do something else instead.

What uses do I see for this product? Primarily 1031 Exchanges, where someone may have restricted cash flow but does have a chunk of cash, and similar investment property situations. For investors and speculators, this would be a good way to stretch you leverage, albeit at a significantly increased risk, as should be plain to everyone reading this site by now. The current market is not really right for it, but being able to use equity in properties this way in rapidly appreciating markets might certainly be a way to make more money.

Perhaps there might be other times when it would make sense as well, but I can't think of another situation where it would be something I'd make a habit of considering. Of course, if someone asks me for it, once they're released to brokers, I'm more than libertarian enough to say, "Sign this saying that you acknowledge being told about these downsides and being advised to consult a financial advisor, and certainly I'll do it for you."

Caveat Emptor


Some Lenders have removed declining market notation for San Diego.

Since 95% loans are now readily available without a government program, demand is up and unfortunately, so are rates.

The Best Loans Right NOW

6.25% 30 Year fixed rate loan, with one total point to the consumer and NO PREPAYMENT PENALTIES!. Assuming a $400,000 loan, Payment $2462, APR 6.389! This is a thirty year fixed rate loan. The payment and interest rate will stay the same on this loan until it is paid off! 30 year fixed rate loans as low as 5.25 percent!

5/1 Rates will save you a lot of money!

Best 5/1 ARM: 5.625% with 1 total point to the consumer, and NO PREPAYMENT PENALTIES! Assuming a $400,000 loan, Payment $2302 APR 5.759. This is a fully amortized loan with a fixed rate for the first five years. 5/1 ARM rates as low as 5 percent!

10 year interest only payments available on 30 year fixed rate loans!

Great Rates on temporary conforming, jumbo and super-jumbo loans also available!

Zero closing costs loans also available!

Yes, I still have 100% financing (full documentation) and stated income loans!

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

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

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

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

100% financing a specialty.

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

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

There are many ways of suckering real estate consumers, and cash as an inducement to get people to swallow a raw deal is one of the most common.

From sellers (usually developers), "free" upgrades are one of the most common. They overprice the property by $50,000, and make you feel like you're getting a deal with "$10,000 worth of free upgrades" that really cost much less. In many cases, they're pre-installed and if you wanted to buy one without the upgrades, they would be unable to accommodate you. But if you're not working with a good buyer's agent who is looking out for your interests, you'll never hear about better properties offered for less.

From agents, they offer commission rebates or reduced price listing packages. But to pretend that these packages offer the same level of service as more expensive packages is ridiculous. If you're looking for a cheap MLS listing service, I've seen them for less than $100. But if you want someone to market your home, look for the buyers you really want, or negotiate on your behalf, you are going to be extremely disappointed. When you are dealing with a strong sellers market like we've had for most of the last decade and don't care if your property sells for the best possible price, discount listing services may be the way to go. If you are dealing with a buyer's market, if you have some issues with the property, if you really want someone to market it in such a way as to find your ideal buyer and get the best price, the more expensive agent who does more work is likely to get you enough more money to more than pay their increased compensation.

Agents who offer a portion of the buyers agents commission back are not likely to be the most active agents out there. They do not typically advise you as to the state of the market and whether there is a better buy out there. They aren't looking for the better bargain, they don't know enough about the state of the market to be strong negotiators, and they're certainly not out scouting properties looking for issues before you make an offer. They do the minimum necessary to get a commission. It is trivial for a more involved agent to get you a better overall bargain.

Some sellers will offer cash back to the buyers. This needs to be distinguished from paying the closing costs you would normally pay as the buyer, which is legal and acceptable, providing it is disclosed to the lender. When the seller offers to put cash back in your pocket, you have the choice of either disclosing it to your lender or not disclosing it. If you don't disclose it to the lender, congratulations! You have just committed fraud, and lenders do get their dander up over it. If you do disclose it to the lender, they will base their loan off (at most) the net sales price, which is the official price minus the rebate. This shoots yourself in the foot other ways, as well, because it will likely increase your tax assessment, and could increase your cost of insurance.

Cash back from a loan provider is most often an intentional distraction, so that they don't have to compete on the real price of the loan. They tell you you're getting $10,000 cash back instead of how much the loan is costing, they can hit you for an extra $2000 in closing cost markups and three points of origination, not to mention that what they are really doing is adding all of that money AND the $10,000 to boot to your balance, where you'll not only owe the money, but pay interest on it for years. Plus it's likely that they stuck you with a higher than market rate of interest as well, because you were distracted by what you thought was free money, so they make more money there, also. Shop your loan by the terms, rate, and total cost to you. All of this can trivially eclipse the $10,000 they put in your pocket - even if they weren't adding it to the balance of the loan.

Offers by a lender to pay your appraisal fees are most often trying to lock up your business from their competition. They're not competitive on price, so they apparently offer you a $400 freebie, while charging you $2000 extra in marked up closing costs, those same three points of origination I talked about, and then they ding you $500 for the appraisal on the final paperwork. This is one of the best ways to get a very high markup on a loan that there is. If you like paying more for a loan than you need to, a "free appraisal" is one of the best ways to go about it.

Finally, this article wouldn't be complete without mentioning several of the ways that quoting low payments for a loan can mess you up. The average consumer may know better in other contexts, but they still shop for real estate loans by which one has the lowest payment. This is basically financial suicide. There are so many loan providers out there pushing negative amortization loans, in which your balance owed increases from month to month in order to allow you to make lower payments, that even when I warn potential wholesalers that I don't want to hear anything about negative amortization loans, at least half of them get themselves thrown out of my office by trying to get me to sell them. They also have higher real interest rates - the price you should pay the most attention to - than many other loans. Right now, you can most likely get a thirty year fixed rate loan at a significantly lower real interest rate than the equivalent cost for a negative amortization loan.

Nor is this the only game played by quoting low payments, merely the most prevalent and most egregious right now. Even if you manage to dodge that bullet with those who quote you low payments in order to sell you a loan (unlikely), there are still all of the standard games that get played with payment. They fudge the math, they "forget" to include the costs in the computations, they pretend you are going to pay the costs of the loan out of pocket when they know good and well that you intend rolling them into the loan, they just lie about their rates and the costs to get them, or, to be able to quote a low payment, they quote you the rate that costs so much that you will never recover the costs of that loan over its entire lifetime. The payment is determined by how much you borrow, at what rate, with what length repayment schedule. The math is the same regardless of the lender. You need $X for the obligations - either the current loan or the purchase. Adding the least cost and being charged the lowest interest rate (always a trade-off between the two) makes for a lower real cost to the loan. Remember, when you refinance, or buy another property, you're paying for your loan rate all over again, so all that money you paid to get a lower rate is gone when you let the lender off the hook by refinancing or selling the property.

Greed is good, Gordon Gecko not withstanding. But let's make it rational greed, because thinking that you are getting a freebie and not asking what it really costs is likely to cost you many times the amount of what you think you're getting for free.

Caveat Emptor

Must you sell if you list at a specific price and the broker comes up with a qualified buyer?

in the US in general, no you do not have to sell, but you could still be liable to the broker for their commission. You might also need to justify why your decision was non-discriminatory (assuming that it wasn't), but if (for instance) your broker brings you someone you have had business dealings with in the past, and they have tried every manouever possible to scam you after reaching agreement in those past dealings, you are (usually) quite justified in refusing to do business with them.

Talk to a lawyer, but generally speaking, if you do not have complete and perfect agreement between the parties on the contract, you do not have a valid purchase contract, and if you didn't want to do business with (say) Bill Clinton or George W. Bush, such is your right as long as you refuse to do so on the basis of them being a particular individual, not based upon them being members of a class protected under anti-discrimination law.

In general, nobody can force you to sell. But it can be expensive not to. I am not familiar with any cases where a real estate agent, listing or buyer's, was awarded a commission even though there was no transaction consummated, but that doesn't mean it couldn't happen. Refusing to sell on the basis of race, sex, religion, sexual orientation, or lifestyle is setting yourself up for a lawsuit.

On the other hand, just because someone offers you full list price does not mean you have to accept it. If the other terms are onerous, if it comes attached with conditions you don't care to accept, or if it is merely from an individual who you have done business with in the past and are unwilling to be involved with again, you are usually within your rights to refuse the offer.

Caveat Emptor


100_7572[1]

I'm very proud of Hilda, who earned an Advanced Level Presidential Award!


There have always been real estate transactions that fall apart. The reasons why they fall apart are as varied as the people who enter into the transaction in the first place. Let's get back to the very basics for a moment. An offer to purchase is a representation that a given prospective buyer would be at least willing to purchase the property on the terms you are offering. Accepting that offer to purchase means that the seller is at least willing to sell it on the same terms that the buyer is offering to buy upon. If one or the other of these parties is not willing to consummate the deal on those terms, why was there both offer and acceptance? There was offer and acceptance, or there isn't anything more than negotiations to fall apart. People fail to reach agreement all the time. That's not what this article is about. It's about what happens to prevent the transaction from being completed after you have a valid contract.

The last credible figure I heard was that 50 percent of all escrows in San Diego County are falling apart. This means that one out of every two contracts don't happen. A few years ago, the proportion was a small fraction of that - I can't find it online, but I seem to remember 11%. This increase is both outrageous and preventable.

The first reason transactions fail is new information. It isn't cost effective or a good negotiations tool for a buyer to spend money on inspection and appraisal before there is an acceptable contract. When this information comes in, you can expect there to be a reassessment of the transaction, because you can expect there to be something about the property that does not conform to reasonable expectations. I certainly can't remember any transactions I've had where the inspections didn't reveal anything new. I've had them where what was revealed was trivial enough to ignore, but never a one where there was nothing. Transfer disclosures from the current owner to the prospective buyer are another of the possibilities for new information to crop up.

All of this new information can indicate a need to subsequent negotiations when it comes to light. If the buyer thinks it's small enough that they are willing to accept the transaction "as is", they can choose to let the transaction continue on the track it's on. If it's big enough that they're unwilling to deal with the situation, they can also choose to walk away. The vast majority of the time, the sanest response is some new negotiations based upon the new information. This isn't normally about things like overall sales price, it's about getting the property into the condition and functionality that the buyer thought they were getting in the first place. Either party can be obstreperous and unreasonable at this point, effectively killing the transaction.

There's also the issue of cold feet, and the related issue of "grass is greener" syndrome. Either one can apply to either party in the transaction. In the first, the buyer decides they don't want to buy or the seller doesn't want to sell after all. In either case, they weren't really "sold" on the benefits of the transaction to them. "Grass is greener" is where they still want a deal, just not this deal. Those happen when markets are asymmetric in power. A few years ago, it was sellers who wanted to bail out of contracts they had duly negotiated because someone offered them a higher price. More recently, it's been buyers trying to pull out because they think they've found a better deal somewhere else. Both are vile. It's not a sin to want the best possible deal, but once you enter into a legal contract you should be prepared to honor your representation that you want that deal. Both of these phenomena are the fault of poor agents, and both are a good way to waste a lot of money in legal expenses when their clients are sued for specific performance. I don't want any part of agents that don't take appropriate steps to prevent either one of these in their clients, and I take note when I hear about them. It's also a reason not to take an attitude of "no quarter!" in negotiations. My client signed that offer or contract because those terms will make them happy. If the other side decides they need to bail out because the terms are odious, my client isn't happy.

Closer to the point is ability to perform. This can be a seller who can't or won't or doesn't meet their obligations in a timely fashion. Delivering good title to the buyer is kind of important to the transaction, and it does occasionally happen that the seller can't do this. Or they don't have the money to make needed repairs, or just won't get off their backside to actually do it.

But far more commonly, it's the ability of the buyer to perform their obligations under the contract that kills the transaction. I have heard about occasional buyers who couldn't or wouldn't or didn't perform on other scores, but the most central of these in the current market, and the reason for at least 90% of the rise in failed transactions, is that the buyer cannot qualify for the necessary loan.

The Era of Make-Believe Loans is over, but judging by the evidence, there's an awful lot of people who haven't figured this out yet. That's the first thing I want to find out when I get a new buyer into my office: What's the evidence of their ability to qualify for the necessary loan? How much do they make, what are their other payments, what is their credit score, how much do they have for a down payment, and is there anything about their situation which might be a cause for concern during the loan process? I don't want to give them the third degree, but I want to be confident I'm not wasting their time or mine, and that I'm not setting them up for a failed transaction. Failed transactions don't make clients happy, they waste the client's money, and they aren't any good for my business, either.

A year or so ago, if somebody came into my office with a 580 to 600 credit score and two years in the same line of work, chances were excellent that a loan could be done - even 100% financing. That is not the case currently, and the time to plan the loan is before the clients fall in love with the property they can't afford.

Lest I be unclear, 100% financing isn't completely gone, but you have to plan more carefully now, and often the purchase contract must be written in certain ways to make it acceptable to everyone who needs to be involved. Write the purchase contract wrong, and you might have killed the deal before it begins because there's something there that's not going to be acceptable to the lender, and sometimes it can prevent other folks from signing off on the deal as well. Furthermore, if the required steps in the contract are going to cause the seller to balk, you're better off finding out before you've got a contract.

The loan environment, especially for loans above 80% loan to value ratio, has changed drastically in the last year, and all of the changes thus far have been in the nature of making qualification more difficult. In my area, appraisal values are arbitrarily reduced by all lenders I'm aware of currently, and if you're not careful, you can find yourself in a situation where 85% loan to value is the maximum that can be done (This just changed - see below). Since the proportion of buyers that have that kind of down payment is rather small, and the proportion of those who want to invest it in the property if they do have it is even smaller, that can be a problem.

Even the government programs like VA and FHA with their low down payment requirements have their stumbling blocks. Not only do they require a buyer to qualify via full documentation of income (as do ALL government-based loan programs), but there are subsidiary requirements as well. Some properties are not eligible, period. Some people (and some companies) can't be involved, period. Investment property and second homes are iffy to doubtful with the VA and practically non-existent for FHA. It's a real good idea to know if you're going to hit one of these roadblocks before you are sixty days into a transaction that's not going to happen, and now we're all going to pay lawyers to fight over the deposit.

When I list a property, I want real information that tells me a loan is doable for this borrower before I advise my client to accept a given offer. Pre-qualification is a joke and even pre-approvals aren't anything to put stock in. The only examples of either that I trust are ones that I wrote, because I know what went into them. However, Steering is illegal. I can't require the buyer to get their loan through me or even to talk to me (or anyone else of my choosing). What I can do is require their loan officer fill out my form and provide documentation that enables me to determine whether a loan is doable or not. If I can't find a lender that can fund that loan, we've got a problem. It's kind of important to know this before we counter.

Unfortunately, we've had ten years where loan money was easy to get, no matter how ridiculous the transaction, and it's left a very strong imprint on many agents. Many have literally know no other environment, and they're finding it hard to make the necessary mental changes. I haven't been in the business ten years, either, but I do understand how the loan environment has tightened up and its effects upon my clients. Even the agents who have been in the business much longer may have no real grasp of the loan environment and often they're just checking off the box that says, "pre-qualification" on the checklist because that shows they did their due diligence. That isn't going to fly anymore. It may or may not help them when they're defending against a lawsuit, but it certainly isn't going to make their future ex-client happy about the thousands of dollars they lost, either because they couldn't qualify or because their prospective buyer couldn't.

When will we see a loosening of lending standards? I don't know but I wouldn't be surprised if it happened today (Okay, I was a little bit surprised when the email that was the first official notice from any lender came in as I was typing this paragraph! This will make it easier for properties that don't qualify FHA or VA to sell). It isn't important, because we're not going back to Make-Believe loans any time soon. Be careful before the contract, and you'll have a lot less chance of getting bitten by the obstacle of a loan that cannot be done.

Caveat Emptor


I have just gotten an email from one of my wholesalers (who shall remain publicly unnamed) removing the "declining market" designation from San Diego loans!

This particular lender is still not willing to do 100% loans, but they will go 95% for conventional conforming and this also removes the requirement to reduce the appraised value for loan purposes.

I do not know how long it will be before everyone, or indeed, anyone else, follows suit, but this is certainly an encouraging sign, and the first official notice that we've had that we've seen bottom.

Believe it or not, I was typing an article with the words, "When will we see a loosening of lending standards? I don't know but I wouldn't be surprised if it happened today." It'll run tomorrow, providing I finish it.

I did predict this several months ago and re-emphasized it a few days ago. You never know market top or market bottom from official statistics until significantly after it has passed.

UPDATE: For those who may not understand, this means that this lender has seen evidence that the market is no longer declining. Other lenders are likely to follow suit. The practical effect is to make it easier to get loans, which means that now people with 5% down payments are now eligible for conventional financing. Since we were in an environment where 10 to 15% down payment was required (outside government guarantee), this means more people are able to be in the market, hence, there will be more people in the market. Therefore, demand increases, raising the price equilibrium point. Because of that, we can expect further rounds of loosening of lender policy to follow, now that this first step has been taken, each of which makes it cumulatively easier to qualify for loans, thereby boosting demand further in the future.

To someone not familiar with financial markets and the way lenders think, it may appear I'm building castles upon a shaky foundation, when in reality these effects are each very likely consequences of the one before it. It will take some more time before lender policy is back where it should be, but each step adds to the forward momentum. We're not going back to "fog a mirror" anytime in the next fifteen years, but I do expect to see 100% conventional financing for full doc conforming borrowers above 680 credit score within a couple years.


In the last couple of years a movement has arisen, led by certain well meaning academics, that says negotiating a loan broker's total revenue is sufficient to get consumers a better loan. As far as they go, they are even correct - it is a better alternative than you find with the vast majority of the loan providers out there, because it removes the ability to arbitrarily boost their own compensation by kickbacks, markups, and just delivering a more expensive loan. This arrangement, which I will call compensation pricing for the purposes of this article, encourages consumer to choose the loan provider who is willing to represent that they make less money than any other. Note that this is not the same thing as actually making less money than any other loan provider.

Most consumers don't understand loan accounting. In the past I have gone over loan accounting as many as three times at and after closing with a given client because they didn't understand what were and were not costs despite me having explained it at loan sign up. I've explained it in person, then again over the phone, then to the guy's accountant, who himself had difficulty understanding the accounting on the HUD-1. For instance Impounds are not a cost, and thankfully, California now has a law that lenders can't charge for not having them. Nonetheless, for those people who do want an impound account after I explain that they are not costs but do require seed money up front, they still often want to count that seed money as a cost. They're not. Impound accounts are that property owner's own money being held to pay that property owner's property tax and homeowner's insurance, bills that that property owner would have even if there was no loan at all on the property. When the loan is paid off, the money in the impound account is promptly returned to the homeowner.

Prepaid interest is another example of money that people do not understand. It is money they would owe in any case. If they choose not to write a check for the month that they refinance, that interest charge has to be paid somehow. It is possible to roll it into the loan balance in most cases, but that is NOT "skipping a payment". You will never EVER skip a monthly payment as long as you have a loan. If you choose not to write a check, you are simply adding it to your mortgage balance.

These two items (assuming the consumer does not pay them out of pocket with a check) can easily add seven or eight thousand dollars to a $400,000 balance, but they are not costs of the loan. They are money that has to be accounted for because they are active and ongoing parts of the loan environment. The new lender is usually perfectly willing to add loaning you this money to your loan balance because they will earn interest on it, but they are in the business of loaning money for interest - they're not going to loan it to you for free. Furthermore, there are immediate cash flows back in your favor in each case. Assuming you currently have an impound account, you'll be getting that money back in the form of a check within a few weeks from the former lender, roughly offsetting the money you borrowed today. Unless your loan has a prepayment penalty, take that check and use it to pay your loan down when you get it, and you'll be roughly even on the impound account money. The same applies to prepaid interest - if you don't want to write that check, but roll it into your loan balance instead, you will then have a month where you don't make a loan payment. You emerge essentially even - except for the fact that you're now owe more money, which you'll be paying paying interest on essentially forever. It's exactly the same as if you had taken "cash out" in a refinance.

But essentially everything else is a cost of the loan itself. Appraisal, title, escrow, notary, processing, underwriting, recording, etcetera. That loan provider should know what they will cost, but most consumers have no real idea. That loan provider also knows what loans are really available, but unless that consumer is a loan broker themselves, they really don't. Various sites publish weekly averages, but that's always what the rates were, not what they are, and are highly misleading in any case. The best loans available, so called "A paper" which a minimum of 75% of all borrowers should qualify for, have their rates change every day at a minimum, and sometimes several times per day, and as of a few months ago, now vary with credit score of the applicant and loan to value ratio as well. Furthermore, all of these services that I'm aware of are based upon a national average, and even for the national lenders there are variations in the rates between the states due to some states making it more expensive to do business than others.

I cannot hit too hard on this point: That loan provider should know what they can deliver, but the consumer does not, because the informational resources available to them are nowhere near real time, and not nearly so concrete as the loan provider's ongoing experience with their lenders and third party service providers.

Compensation pricing leaves the consumer assuming pricing risk on the loan. The first implication of this is that even though you have negotiated their company revenue, they can still lowball their quotes. You've mutually agreed that they're going to make $2500 for doing this loan - but they're still competing with Larry the Loan Low-baller, and they know it. The vast majority of competitive pricers offered what looks like a cheaper loan will switch, regardless of whether it really is better. The incentives for low-balling and pretending that costs they you are going to pay do not exist, but guess what? You're still going to pay them. Quoting a shorter rate lock period than necessary to deliver the loan means that they can pretend you're going to end up with a cheaper loan, but what happens if rates rise between quote and lock?

A subsidiary weakness of compensation pricing is "What does it include?" When negotiating compensation pricing, I have to include processing because sometimes I do my own when I want something handled just so, and even when I don't, I use an in-house processor. Since I'm negotiating total company revenue, I have to include that in my negotiations. Somebody who uses strictly contract processing can exclude processor cost from negotiations in compensation pricing, because that money is going to a third party they can show a receipt for. Were any direct lenders to negotiate compensation pricing, it would have to include all their lender imposed fees such as underwriting and document generation, as well as secondary loan market premium they expect to receive from the loan (a number which would vary with developments in the financial markets as the loan progresses, by the way). Brokers usually are significantly cheaper than direct lenders, but these numbers would appear to amplify that difference far more than warranted, and is a reason you'll fly to the moon by flapping your arms before direct lenders honestly negotiate their total compensation in this manner.

This leads into another weakness of compensation pricing. The FTC did some research a while back which directly highlighted this fact, that choosing the lowest loan provider compensation does not translate into the best loan. Focusing on loan provider compensation takes your eye off the ball of the best bottom line to you, the consumer. If that loan broker is going to make $2500 for your loan, no matter what, do you think the broker is motivated to aggressively price your loan with every possible lender and find you the best possible price on that loan, or are they motivated to go with the loan they can get through underwriting most easily? It really does make a huge difference, if they take the time time to understand the niches a given lender is aiming at. More than once, by shopping the right lender I've come in with quotes that would enable me to tack on two points of compensation to my company revenue and still deliver a better loan than my competition. Not to mention I was willing to assume the pricing risk, and they weren't.

Compensation pricing also assumes that the broker or lender is honest about their revenue. Given the facts in the second through fifth paragraphs of this article, that one is worth more laughs than Robin Williams and Bill Cosby combined have gotten over the course of their entire careers.

What is the alternative to the consumer retaining pricing risk? The lender (or broker) assuming it, of course. It really doesn't take much more information. The lender indicates in writing the loan type or characteristics, the interest rate, the total cost, and whether or not there is a prepayment penalty attached, then guarantees in writing that they will pay anything above that level. Note that all of this information is necessary, and four things really isn't a lot to remember. rate and cost are always a tradeoff for any given loan type, so ignoring one to concentrate upon the other makes your shopping for a loan a complete waste of time. Making certain you're talking about the loan type you want is a real good idea unless you're willing to risk getting stuck with something else, and the presence or absence of a prepayment penalty (and for how long!) can make a huge difference. Two percent on the rate is not at all unusual, so failing to nail them down as to whether there's a prepayment penalty is a real problem. Here's a list of Questions you should ask every provider you shop before you sign up for their loan.

Furthermore, focusing on guaranteed pricing means that you're focusing on what's really important to know: How much money this loan is going to cost you over time. You're zeroing in on the bottom line to you, not extraneous and distracting information about how much someone is going to make providing it. Wal-Mart makes more per item than most of their competition, but people shop there in droves. Why? Because the bottom line is better for them, the customers. If I offer to sell you the exact same television $100 cheaper than my competition, which set are you going to buy? Do you even care if I'm going to make $50 more than the other salesperson? The situation is the same with loans.

Quote guarantees are not a panacea. It can be exceedingly difficult to enforce them right when you need the loan, so I still recommend a back up loan if you are at all unsure of that loan provider's intent to deliver the loan they promise. There are limitations upon the best of quote guarantees, as loan officers are not loan underwriters and cannot write loan commitments. The loan officer cannot promise you the loan; they can promise you the rate and cost provided the underwriter approves it, and they can go over the main guidelines with you to make certain there isn't a known reason for the loan to be rejected.

But by forcing the lender to assume pricing risk, you are far more likely to end up with a better loan out of the process, because they have to tell you about the real costs and the real rate that they have reason to believe you will qualify for. If they don't, the difference comes out of their pocket, not yours, whereas in any other pricing scheme, who do you think is going to get stuck for the difference? For this reason, I'll recommend any guarantee that forces the lender to assume pricing risk over any loan quote that does not. Even if the other quote is lower, without that pricing guarantee what evidence do you have that they intend to deliver that lower quote? There is no sufficient answer to that question. If they intend to deliver, they should be willing and able to guarantee pricing.

I assume pricing risk on every loan I quote.

Caveat Emptor


For at least the last thirty years, I've been hearing "affordable housing" advocates yammer about the high cost of housing, and how working families can no longer afford "decent" housing, which they apparently consider to be the three or four bedroom, two bathroom detached home. They go on and on about what is necessary to create more of this type of housing and our "moral obligation" to create more of it. In light of the current situation, I'm going to make a conscious effort to continue my occasional series on factors that influence the overall market for housing. I'm going to examine the broad macroeconomics involved, the assumptions necessary, whether it is or is not long term sustainable, and the choices we face in sustaining or curtailing it.

Today's topic is how the housing market of today came about and what sustains it. A century ago, roughly eighty five percent of the population did not live in major cities, but rather in small farming communities which more or less blanketed the nation. Suitable land for housing could be anywhere, and so it was much more readily available and much cheaper. When the criteria is "anywhere there's land I can farm," you can choose any arable parcel and build a house on it. Even if you don't live on a farm but in one of the small towns, when you can walk the length of the town in five or ten minutes, it's a lot easier to arrange housing for everyone. If one particular town becomes too crowded, the next one over became attractive. If you need a place for a few more people, one of the farmers whose land immediately surrounded the town could usually be persuaded to sell some land. The cities were dense affairs, much more like european cities than is the case today. Indeed, the few large cities we had built up before the war still retain that urban core with dense multistory housing that is characteristic of the period. The typical pattern of the day was that young women, in particular, would continue to live with their parents until marriage. Young men of marriageable age would most often live in rooming-houses or boarding houses once they became gainfully employed. Apartment dwelling was only somewhat expected for young couples just getting started and urban dwellers who might have been together for many years, yet could not afford anything better in close proximity to their profession. Urban housing was tight-packed because the land was very expensive by standards of the time, and urban transportation was communal to a far greater extent than today. It is much more common today for even people in Manhattan to own and drive cars than it was before World War II. The use of steel as a building material was a big deal for those urban centers because it meant that it was possible for them to build further up. San Diego is very much a post war city, but even we still have areas that were built in those times - packed in tightly, cheek by jowl, extremely dense living. Once upon a time, before reliance upon military work and bad policy ruined it, San Diego was a major west coast port and the base for the largest fishing fleet in the world - two of my aunts married tuna fishermen. Even further out, in what were before WWII the "newly urban" areas of North Park and National City, the housing very much resembled classic "company town" housing - 600 and 800 square foot one and two bedroom cottages sitting on 3500 square foot lots. These were the era's predecessor to the exurban bedroom community of today, usually owned by members of the skilled trades or young professionals. The core suburbs today such as La Mesa were still economically speaking, farming communities. Even Mission Valley was mostly farms until the early sixties. During this time frame, only the comparatively wealthy lived in larger houses within city limits. If you go to Mission Hills above Old Town, or Grant or Banker's Hill (and here and there in other neighborhoods) you can still see a very few of the large houses for the Well-to-do of that era.

Indeed, the three bedroom, two bath detached house in an urban setting for the working class is almost entirely a creation of the post World War II mood in this country. For several years, very little housing had been built, and now these men who had gone off to war and saved the world as seventeen and eighteen year olds who had traditionally remained with their parents or moved on to boarding houses until they got married were now returning as twenty-two and twenty-three year olds who were traditionally married and starting families by that point in their lives. The women to marry them wasn't a problem; the housing to put the new families in was. These folks had several years of savings (war bonds, the wartime sacrifices, etcetera), and the traditional apartments were considered a poor and at best temporary inconvenience until that new modern post-War marvel - tract housing - could be built in sufficient numbers. And if such housing was horribly inefficient in terms of land, utilities, and transportation, nonetheless we were the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, and accommodating their desires for such was the least the nation could do for our valiant warriors. Furthermore, with the aforementioned savings they had accumulated during the war, the young men and their new wives could afford to pay for this new housing. If you're wondering about "It's a Wonderful Life," keep in mind that most of that 1946 movie takes place well before the war, and even by the time of its release, the country hadn't yet shifted very far from the way things were done pre-War.

The land was available and largely vacant then, and certainly could not and can not be covered effieciently by public transportation, but the newly affluent families (through savings during the war and better jobs after) could afford far more automobiles as well. For the first time, women were staying in the work force in significant numbers until motherhood. There was plenty of land available. As a young child in the early sixties, I can still remember when there was space between all of the suburbs, even when we drove to Los Angeles to visit family members or Disneyland. I-5 was brand new thanks to President Eisenhower, and from the point we got out of the Pacific Beach, there weren't any towns visible from the road, just widely separated houses, until we passed Oceanside and Camp Pendleton, at which point there wasn't anything more until San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano, then another good long way past that before there was anything more again. It wasn't until just before Disneyland that we saw more city. The I-5/405 split in the middle of present day Irvine was out in the middle of nowhere back then. My parents almost bought a 320 farm just east of the Del Mar fairgrounds the year I was born. One of my best friend's parents had considered a farm in Mission Valley, despite the fact my friend's father was in the navy. If you clicked on the images, you know none of these are empty land any longer.

Why not? Suburban housing and to a lesser extent, support services have eaten it up. The only open area between the Mexican border and the Tejon Pass is the stuff that's been held aside for other reasons, such as Camp Pendleton, which the Marines badly need. Los Angeles with 3.8 million people has an area of almost 470 square miles, while by comparison cities of similar population elsewhere such as Ahmedabad in India, Alexandria in Egypt are a fraction the physical size. If we're going to keep doing the same thing, we're going to run out of places to put everybody. In fact, in Southern California we have essentially done so. New development is taking place in Hesperia and Victorville, or out past Banning, or out in Hemet or eastern Murrieta, all of which are an hour and a half minimum trip time from the center of the urban areas they service, even if you're driving it at an hour when there's no traffic.

This also creates a lot of logistical problems. Most inhabitants of the cities concerned would have no trouble naming the most salient problem, which is transportation. When you have that many people that spread out, and you need to move them all significant distances at pretty much the same time, it takes a massive amount of transportation infrastructure to do so. US 395, the predecessor to I-15, was one lane each direction from Escondido until just a few miles south of present day I-10. But it isn't just transportation. Utilities are a much larger headache to supply than sixty years ago as well, and the logistics of keeping that many people supplied with groceries and gas and everything else make the transportation and utilities problems seem easy.

Finally, there are legal and political barriers to continuing to build housing in this manner. Environmental concerns are the most obvious of these, but building codes, zoning, and other concerns form significant obstacles to its continuation, as does the consumption of land. Once upon a time Southern California was some of the most productive farm land there was. My wife's uncle was a well-off citrus grower until the developers bought his land for millions of dollars. I can remember (barely) large tracts of citrus in El Cajon and Lemon Grove and Escondido. The only reason the hillsides north of Escondido are still relatively uninhabited avocado farms is because they're steep enough to render development difficult. The same applies to all of the other agricultural land remaining.

All that aside, I would like for housing prices to be affordable, and for everyone who's going to grow up in this country for the next century to be able to afford the type of housing they want, where they want. Absent some major changes in public policy and employment practices, it's not going to happen. The land no longer exists, we can't afford ongoing losses in arable land (look up how few countries in the world are net exporters of food), the transportation networks are saturated, environmental regulations are restricting development as are legal hurdles such as necessary permits (which add roughly $20,000 per unit to the cost of new housing, but over $100,000 to the price due to constricted supply), and lets not forget legal challenges from NIMBYs, BANANAs and environmentalists who already have their 3 bedroom 2 bathroom suburban home, and whose property values just happen to increase in a manner directly dependent upon how far they can constrict the supply of new housing. In short, the current situation does not appear to be sustainable absent major societal changes.

Caveat Emptor

Purchase Money: This is a loan that enables you, in combination with your down payment, to actually purchase the property. If you spend cash to buy the property and get a loan the next day, that is not a purchase money loan. This has tax consequences.


Rate/Term Refinance: This is a refinance that does not put money in your pocket for other purposes. As it is more usually defined, this is a refinance that does not put significant numbers of dollars in your pocket. These loans typically have the best rates of the three purposes. For A paper, you are allowed to pay off existing loans, you are allowed to borrow enough money to "seed" a new impound account, you are allowed enough money to pay up to one month of prepaid interest, and you are allowed up to 1% of the new loan amount, or $2000, whichever is less, to be put into your pocket for other purposes. In order to qualify as rate/term, A paper cannot do anything with an existing second (or third) mortgage, unless every last cent of that second (or third) mortgage was spent in acquiring the property, a fact which can force you to either do a cash out refinance or to subordinate your existing second mortgage to a new first trust deed. Sub-prime may have more forgiving definitions regarding other debts, but choosing sub-prime loan because it allows your new loan to be defined as a rate/term refinance is like voting Cthulu for President because you're tired of voting for the lesser of two evils. Sub-prime loans have pre-payment penalties by default, and generally carry higher rates.

The difference in tradeoffs between rate and cost can be small to non-existent between rate/term and cash out refinances, particularly at lower loan to value ratios. The difference also varies depending upon credit score, size of loan, and individual lender policy, but it can be quite steep. The point is to get an honest discussion of your options beforehand, not simply to sign up with some lender who pretends that the difference doesn't exist.

Cash Out Refinance is any refinance that does not meet the definition of rate/term. It puts cash in your pocket, it pays off other debts, it includes or combines or refinances a home equity loan or home equity line of credit that you took out for improvements or to pay other debts. Cash out refinances will usually have the least favorable set of rate and cost trade offs, what the uneducated think of as "highest rates" of these three purposes, at least at higher loan to value ratios. Depending upon the lender, loan to value ratios under seventy to sixty percent may have the same rate structure as rate term refinances. Cash out refinances also usually have slightly tougher underwriting guidelines than either of the other two categories.

Caveat Emptor

That's one of the questions I've been asked, and it deserves an answer. Know that there is some flexibility to the answer, as there are embedded trade offs. You don't need as much of an income, or as high of a credit score, if you have a down payment. A sufficiently high credit score can also mean that you can afford a more expensive property, as higher credit scores get better interest rates, and therefore, lower payments for the same property. On the flip side, if you have monthly bills that consume a large amount of your income, you cannot afford to pay as much for a property. The same applies if you cannot prove sufficient income via the traditional means of w-2s or income tax forms, as the alternative loan forms do not give rates as good. Finally, most of this only applies if you want or need a loan. If you intend to pay with cash, you can buy anything legal that you desire with your cash, and the hurdles become much smaller.

The first thing any buyers need if they want a loan for the property is a source of income. If you want a loan, you've got to have money coming in from somewhere to make the payments. Preferably, it's a documentable, regular source of income, such as paychecks or income from a business on which you report taxable income. I suppose I should mention that tax cheats have difficulty getting good quality home loans, because I have dealt with a few people I suspect of that. Don't worry, I'm not an IRS employee and I won't turn you in. But all lenders must report loan transactions, and every real estate transaction is a matter of public record. If you make a major purchase or take out a major loan, the IRS can take an interest in you. Just sayin'.

You income, together with whatever amount you have for a down payment, gives you a budget for a property. If your credit score is not horrible, a down payment is optional, but you will need at least a couple thousand for a good faith deposit, and probably another thousand at least for appraisal, inspections, and miscellaneous stuff. The once-upon-a-time rule of thumb about a 2% earnest money deposit has long gone by the wayside, but a good deposit is often evidence that you are serious about your ability to consummate the deal, and might get you a lower price in negotiations. I will argue against my listing clients accepting any offer, no matter how good, without a deposit, and most sane real estate agents agree with me.

Regarding the down payment, it may be optional, but at least a certain amount is a good option if you have it. In order to make a difference on the terms of your loan, the required down payment generally goes in increments of 5%. 5% will get you better terms than you would get for no deposit, 10% will get you better terms than 5%, 15% better than 10%.

If you want to take advantage of a governmental first time buyer assistance program, either the Mortgage Credit Certificate or a locally based buyer assistance program, you need to be very careful about staying within what you can prove you can afford via tax forms. Stated Income, or documenting your income via bank statements, is not an option on any of those programs. Using creative financing options, such as negative amortization loans, with such programs is similarly forbidden. First time assistance programs are not designed to encourage irresponsibly buying a more expensive property than you can afford; they are designed to help you stretch what you can afford a little further. Know what you can afford in terms of sales price, because agents and loan officers can too easily manipulate payment quotations. Rules of thumb (2.5 times income, four times income, whatever) are worthless. This article will help you compute what you can afford, once you know the approximate rates for current thirty year fixed rate loans.

You will need to be able to document a two year history of housing payments. Since you have never bought before, this means rent. No fun to have had to enrich someone else for a couple of years, but there are valid reasons why lenders require a history of regular housing payments on time. If you can document that you've been paying regular rent to your parents, grandparents, or what have you, that can count, although lenders will usually ask for copies of the canceled checks rather than accepting their word for it.

You will also need a history of credit payments. Mortgage lenders want to see evidence that you have the habit of paying your debts on time regularly. The usual criteria is three total lines of credit, one open for at least 24 months, the other two for at least six months. These can be revolving lines of credit such as credit cards, or installment debt such as car payments. Note that they do not necessarily have to still be open, but whatever balances and monthly payments you still have will be counted against your debt to income ratio.

Also, you generally need at least two open lines of credit in order to have credit scores reported by the major credit bureaus. Ideal is two long term credit cards with very small balances. You will need an appropriate credit score for what you are trying to do. What score is sufficient will depend upon the exact characteristics of your transaction. For 100% financing under full documentation, a credit score of 580 is generally sufficient. Better scores will lower your rate, and therefore your payments, but the best thing that can be said about a 580 credit score is that it isn't putrid.

The last things I will mention that will stand you in good stead are also optional: An educated layperson's knowledge of the process (I would like to think being a regular reader here will help with that), a investigative attitude, and the willingness to shop effectively for services, both loan and real estate.

Caveat Emptor


My advice to sellers is very simple: Hold off if you can. Things have already improved, but better times are coming once more inventory clears. The prognosis for this is very good. I'm seeing fewer short sales, at least in my area, which means that there are fewer people who need to sell.

For buyers, it's not going to get any better than this. Stop worrying about whether the market has hit absolute bottom. Trying to time the market is worse than useless, and as I said in When You Should Not Buy Real Estate, the math works against buying for less than about three years duration. Look at the likely situation at least three years out in determining whether it's a good time to buy a place to live (if you can't last three years, stay a renter). That likely situation for property owners three years from now by comparison with now is so much better that I'm worried about diabetes every time I consider it. The local economy is doing well - enough people can afford higher prices than current to make this a strictly temporary depression in real estate prices. Growth policy is getting more restrictive all the time, and it's not like there's a whole lot of places left to build anyway. Increasing the density of existing housing doesn't seem likely in the short term, and the one municipal government that had a little bit of sanity on the manner has changed its tune for the worse. Against all these constraints on supply, demand keeps growing. The only thing working against price recovery longer term is the interest rate outlook, and I don't think those are going above the mid sevens, if that high - which would make a difference of about 10% to prices by equivalent payments - and the other factors more than compensate. Increased demand and economic ability to pay each account for more than that. Don't forget the effects of high gas prices, either, raising the value of the older suburbs that are closer in relative to that of the exurbs.

This buyer's market is not going to last three more years. I can't tell you exactly when it's going to become a seller's market again, but it isn't going to be three years. The ratio of sellers to buyers has dropped twenty percent in the last year, from 32.6 to 26.7, and absolute inventory is starting to drop - it's off over 2000 units in the last three months, when you'd expect more new inventory to be coming onto the market given the time of year.

Furthermore, those ratios are misleading because a large proportion of property for sale is still overpriced in terms of asking price when you judge by the prices things actually sell for. In my primary area, it appears that about sixty percent of what's on the market is overpriced given actual sales in the neighborhood. Some of these are Short sales where the lender just isn't going to deal due to mortgage insurance, and buyers would be wasting their time to make an offer. Others are represented by agents "buying" a listing, although that's pretty much a constant of any market. When you get down to sellers willing to allow their agent to market the property correctly and talk a reasonable price, the ratio is probably about ten sellers per buyer. Given that, Sellers don't have to compete nearly so strongly as they did even a few months ago.

Indeed, right now there is a severe constraint upon buyers that's likely to get loosened a bit in the near future: Available loans. The loan market always controls the real estate market. With San Diego designated a declining market by every lender I'm aware of, the buyers with small down payments have been locked out of the market. Currently, the only way to get high loan to value ratio loans is loans with a federal government guarantee attached: either FHA (decent) or VA (better). For conventional loans, the appraisal is automatically reduced 5% and the lenders are capping out at 90 to 95% of the lower of cost or market, which is to say, the lower of purchase price or appraisal. But Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are still willing to buy 100% loans, at least up to the conforming limit (currently $417,000). It's just that the lenders they're buying the loans from who aren't. I'm not having issues with appraised value constraining the loan, but folks with less careful buyer's agents are, and they're needing a minimum 10 percent, and maybe 15% down payment just to get financing at all. But that "declining market" label came to us relatively recently, long after values had registered the lion's share of the drop we've had. It's going to warrant removal sometime in the not too distant future. Indeed, it seems to me that the numbers probably are there to support removal, but it's going to be a while longer before this fact is apparent, thanks to the boards of realtors who manipulated statistics to make the drop in property values appear as small as possible for as long as possible.

So what happens when the restrictions are loosened a little bit? Instead of ten to fifteen percent down payment, people need just 5% - and maybe none. Right now, people with 5% down payment just aren't a factor in the market for the most part. What happens to the seller to buyer ratio when they are? It drops. What happens when it does? Even more of the power swings from buyers to sellers. What happens to prices then? They shift upwards.

As a special note: The prices of Condos and Townhomes and even PUDs has been hit particularly hard - much harder than that of detached housing. I'm seeing nearly 200 current listings just in La Mesa, El Cajon, Santee, and Lemon Grove where the asking price is less than $150,000, and fifty have already sold. With an FHA loan, you can buy into those for 3% down, or roughly $5000. Payment on $150,000 at 6.5% (including FHA insurance) works out to $948. Add $200 HOA dues and $150 per month in taxes, and in many cases you're coming out about even on the rent - and that's without a significant down payment. Furthermore, less than $3000 per month of income can qualify you, when it might have taken twice that a few years ago and it still takes $5000 per month income for even the cheapest "fixer" detached home. With the Era of Make Believe Loans departed for now, Condos and Townhomes and maybe PUDs are going to be what first time buyers can afford in the future, and the price of gas is going to constrain people as to where they live. I expect those prices to recover more value, more quickly, than detached housing. These might not be what people want, but they are what people are going to be able to afford. Once prices start upwards again (and they will, soon), many people who won't consider them now will stop being in denial about economic reality. The choice for most folks is going to be "buy a condo or rent forever". Expect the demand and the prices to go up significantly.

Caveat Emptor

You've probably heard the horror stories, and I've mentioned the possibility more than once. Some unsuspecting person is looking at properties beyond their price range, and it therefore has all kinds of attractive features that properties which are in their price range do not have. They are just about to regretfully but firmly put the notion of buying this particular property out of their heads when the Real Estate agent whispers seductively, "I can see that you want it, so let me show you how you can afford it!"

There are all kinds of reasons why this happens. Bigger commission check for the bigger sale certainly is one, but a far bigger concern to most of the predators who do this is that it's an easy immediate sale. Instead of having to take those folks around to dozens more properties that are in their price range (and perhaps lose them to some other agent taking advantage of an opportunity in the meantime), while the clients agonize about the trade-offs of linoleum versus carpet in the bathroom and kitchen, and maybe if they'll keep looking just a little while longer they'll find one that is perfect despite the market, so they're not going to make an offer today, thank you very much, this predator has shown them the equivalent of the holy grail, provided the clients do not understand the downsides of the loan that is necessary to procure that property.

There is a reason why I advise people shopping for a property to make a budget based upon what they can afford based upon current rates on 30 year fixed rate loans, or at the very most an amortized 5/1 ARM, and stick to it. That the maximum price you will offer - end of discussion. Even if you, the client, end up applying for another type of loan that has lower payments, if you could make the payment on a thirty year fixed rate loan, you are pretty certain you are not getting in over your head. But shop by sales price, not payment. "Creative financing" has become so pervasive that shopping by the payment the real estate agent has posted, or tells you about, is severely hazardous to your financial health. This number should be the most important thing buyer's discuss with their agents, and the budget must be quoted in terms of purchase price, not monthly payment. There are too many games that can be played with monthly payment.

Indeed, the very head of the list of reasons why buyers should fire an agent is that the agent showed them a property which can not reasonably be gotten for the sales price limit they told the agent about. You tell me that your limit is $320,000, it might be okay to show you a property listing for $340,000 or even $350,000. In the current buyer's market, that's a comparatively small amount of bargaining power. In a seller's market, of course, it would likely rule out anything where the ask is over $325,000. But if the agent shows you a property listing for $450,000, simply ask to be taken home or back to your vehicle immediately, and then inform them that their services are no longer required and that you desire them to make no further efforts to contact you. Were I shopping for a property, I would demand to know the asking prices before I went, and not only fire the agent but also refuse to go if they cannot show me why they think this property can be obtained for the total cost limits we have agreed upon. Not monthly payment limits, sales price.

So what loans should not be used to purchase a property? Well keep in mind that this list assumes that your loan providers are telling the truth about the kind of loan they are working on for you, an assumption that, judging by a dozen or so different e-mails I've gotten from people who were scammed, is increasingly iffy. Furthermore, if you are a real financial and loan expert, there are reasons why these warnings may not apply, particularly if the property in question is investment property, but those sorts of experts should know the exceptions, should not be looking to this website for advice, and are always able to accept the financial consequences of not following these guidelines (in other words, they have the ability to absorb the losses).

The absolute head of the list, the loan that should never be used for purchase of a primary residence is the negative amortization loan. Known by many other friendly sounding names such as "pick a pay", "Option ARM", "COFI loan," "MTA loan," and "1% loan" (which it is not), this loan is a truly horrible choice for the vast majority of the population (99%+). It was only approved by regulators to service a very small niche market, and if you are a member of that niche market, chances are that your Option ARM will not be approved by the lender! This loan is usually sold strictly on the basis of the fact that the minimum payment is lower than any other type of loan, making it look like clients can afford a loan that they cannot, in fact, afford. This low payment is based upon a low nominal, or "in name only" rate that is not the real rate the money is accumulating interest at. In fact, the real rate that you are being charged is currently at least 1.5 percent above equivalent rates for thirty year fixed rate loans, as well as being month to month variable. How often do you think people who are being fully informed of the loan would agree to accept a rate a full 1.5 percent higher on a fully variable loan than what they would have gotten on a thirty year fixed rate mortgage, and with a prepayment penalty also? The lenders pay very high yield spreads for doing these loans, and the bond market pays even higher premiums, so many lenders push them hard, and many wholesalers push them even harder. Despite being warned that I was not interested in any loans that feature negative amortization, three new potential wholesalers have gotten themselves thrown out of my office in the last month. I guess they weren't interested - or able - to compete with other lenders on real loans.

The Interest only 2/28 does have one redeeming factor, as compared to the negative amortization loan. At least your balance isn't getting higher every month. With the average loan around here being about $400,000, a rate of 5.5% would have the payment being $1833. But if that's all you can afford, what happens in two years when the rate adjusts and it starts amortizing, and if the market stays right where it is today, the payment goes to $2771, an increase of 51%? You haven't paid the principal down. There's a pre-payment penalty stopping you from selling or refinancing until it does adjust. If prices have appreciated enough to pay the costs of selling you might not come out so bad, but what if they haven't, or if prices have actually gone down? This is not the sort of bet that someone with a fiduciary relationship should make, as real estate prices increasing is not something you can make a risk free bet on. Millions of people are finding that out right now.

The next loan on the list is the 3/27 Interest Only. This does offer you one more year to get your act together and start making more money to make the payments with than the 2/28. The downside is that it actually adjust higher due to the increased interest only period. In the example above, the payment would adjust to $2804, an increase of just under 53%. This also means you have another year for the value of the property to do the historically normal thing and appreciate a little. Still doesn't mean it's a bet somebody with a fiduciary responsibility should be making with your finances.

The next type of loan to be wary of is anything stated income or even lesser levels of documentation (NINA or "no ratio" loans). These loans are great and wonderful if you really are making that money and really can make those payments, but don't let the temptation to buy a more expensive property lead you to exaggerate what you really make, or allow a loan officer to exaggerate what you really make, in order to qualify for the loan. Remember, you are still going to have to make those payments, and if you can't, the bad things that will happen more than counterbalance the nicest thing that might happen. Again, millions of people are discovering this right now.

Somewhat less dangerous are interest only loans with a longer term or extended amortization loans. A five, seven, or ten year interest only period, while much more endurable than a two or three, is still not a certain bet of making a profit. Same thing with a forty or fifty year amortization loan. Given the way the rate structure is applied by most lenders, these loans are given out by lenders wishing to cover questionable lending practices to people who do not qualify for interest only loans according to bond market guidelines. Still, if it's got a good long fixed period of at least five years, you are paying the balance down and it's a reasonable bet that you will be able to sell for a profit before the adjustment hits. Not a certain bet, but a reasonable one, as in "the odds of making a profit or being able to refinance on more favorable terms before the payment becomes something you cannot afford are definitely on your side."

The ordinary 2/28 and 3/27 are dangerous enough for most fully informed adults. Using the interest only examples above, the 5.5% rate actually becomes 5.25% fully amortized, as it's a less risky loan. The initial payment becomes $2208, which does pay the loan down some, but then the payment becomes $2691 (in the case of the 2/28) or $2678 (3/27) holding the market constant as it sits and keeping other background assumptions constant. If you cannot afford these smaller jumps when they happen, at least you've got several thousand dollars that you have paid the principal down to use for closing costs on the new loan or towards the costs of selling, but be aware that the market is never reliable in its fluctuations over a short period of time, and using these loans for a purchase can and many times has meant that when the fixed period ran out, those people who choose these loans are in the unenviable position of being unable to afford their current payments, being unable to refinance, and being unable to sell for enough to break even when you consider the costs of selling.

There is nothing really wrong if you can afford the thirty year fixed rate loan but deliberately choose some other loan. I do this myself to save money on interest charges, which is the real major cost of the loan, but as narrow as the gap in rates is right now, even I might choose a thirty year fixed rate loan if I needed to refinance. It's not being able to afford the sustainable loan that will kill you. If not a thirty year fixed rate loan, at least a fully amortizing ARM with a fixed period of at least five years.

The most important things about any loan is the interest you are being charged for the money you are borrowing, how long it lasts, and the cost in dollars of getting that loan done, not a lower minimum payment that, certain as gravity, has a gotcha! engraved on it that will cause you to regret getting that loan. Unfortunately, we cannot go back to the past with information we learn in the future, and real estate loans are especially unforgiving of borrowers who do not understand the future implications of their current loan decisions.

As a final note, I have structured this essay around the loan to purchase a property, but the arguments work just as strongly and just as universally for so-called "cash out" refinances as they do for purchase money loans.

Caveat Emptor

Solid Lender Owned Property in Great Neighborhood!

General: La Mesa, 3 Bedroom 1.75 Bathroom

Con:

What's Wrong With It: The color of the kitchen cabinets has to be seen to be believed. The cooking equipment is basically original 1960. Neither bathroom has been updated since at least 1975, and the floors need to be polished and sealed.

Why It Hasn't Sold: Those kitchen cabinets are the unforgivable sin for most.

Who it's Not Appropriate For: Somebody who has to have it beautiful immediately.

Pro:

Selling Points: All of the rooms have really good light, the living room especially. Everything is solid and even the stuff that needs to be updated is very livable as it sits. The back yard has plenty of room and an excellent view. The neighborhood is solid and desirable. The schools are excellent.

Who Should be Interested: Mostly, people willing to deal with surface cosmetic issues - the kitchen cabinets would be the hardest.

Why it's a Bargain: Priced aggressively to sell, $30000-$40000 below less desirable properties in the same neighborhood.

Financial:

What I think I can get it for: $360,000.

Monthly Payment examples: I've currently got a thirty year fixed rate loan available for qualified buyers at 5.875% with one point, or 100% Thirty year fixed VA financing at 5.875% for the same cost.

With no down payment: VA 30 year fixed rate loan at 5.875% (FHA 97% financing) payment $2129, (APR 6.015)

With 20% down: Fully amortized payment of $1703 (APR 6.027).

Other financing options are available, potentially lowering the payments, but I'm quoting real loans that real people can get, that will stay exactly the same until you pay it off.

Investment potential: If you keep it ten years and it averages only 5% annual average appreciation per year: Based upon a purchase price of $360,000 the property would be worth approximately $580,000. If you held it those ten years before selling, you would net about $280,000 in your pocket (not including increased value from updates!), assuming zero down payment. As opposed to renting the $2000 per month most comparable currently available rental and investing the difference at 10% per year tax free, you would be approximately $250,000 ahead of the renter, after the expenses of selling.

To learn more: Agree that you'll use me as a buyer's agent if you buy it. If you don't like it or don't buy it, no obligation is incurred. If you're not working with someone who will go out and find properties like this, maybe you should consider working with me instead!

Contact Information:

Dan Melson, Buyer's Agent
Action Realty Inc
9143 Mission Gorge Road, Suite A
Santee, CA 92071
619-449-0723 X 116

Yet that is exactly what you want them to do.

To avoid competing on price, they have all kinds of distractions they offer to make life more convenient, but not cheaper. They offer automatic payment options, the convenience of having your mortgage at your corner financial institution, biweekly payments, mortgage accelerators, and even negative amortization loans, which offer the apparent benefit of lower payments, at the price of a much higher interest rate than you would otherwise be able to get, which is the price the lender really cares about, and the one you should also.

There is always a trade-off between rate and cost for a given type of loan. That doesn't mean that different lenders won't have different trade-offs. Some are less willing to compete on price than others, so they tell you about how great their service is, how you are such a difficult loan that nobody else can do, or how easy their paperwork is, or how easy their loans are to qualify for. As a matter of fact, the lender with the easiest paperwork and loosest qualification standards will usually have the highest price trade-off, because their loans are statistically more likely to default, and therefore have to bring in a higher interest rate in order to have the same return.

Just like branding in the world of consumer products, which is also in effect for mortgages (why else would National Megabank be spending all that money for commercials? They expect to make a profit on it!), all of these little extra bells and whistles increases the price they can charge consumers for their loans, which is to say, the rate that you get, and the cost to get that rate.

So long as the terms are comparable, a loan is a loan is a loan. Provided that it has no hidden gotchas, a 5.875% thirty year fixed rate loan is exactly the same loan from National Megabank as it is from the Lender You Have Never Heard Of. No pre-payment penalty, and lower costs for the same rate? That's the lender I'll choose. It should be the same one you choose as well. It doesn't matter to me what name I make the check out to, or what address I put on the envelope. It shouldn't matter what routing symbol you put on the automatic payment, either, if that's what floats your boat. Lower rate for the same cost? Same situation. Everything else is window dressing.

(Okay, it doesn't often matter to me. There are lenders that I'll bet you've heard of where I won't place my client's loans no matter how good the price due to some issues with their lending practices. But those lenders trend heavily to be the ones with massive consumer ad campaigns that don't really try very hard for broker generated business, anyway, because brokers learn to stay away from them fast. Nor are they usually competitive on price, because they're aiming for the "consumers shopping by name recognition" market).

So how do you force lenders to compete based on price? It's actually very simple. Ignore all of the stuff that they try to distract you with, like low payments for a while or mortgage accelerators or biweekly payment programs. Those are bait, and they serve the same purpose as bait: To get you to take the hook. Think about the things that happen to the fish after it takes the hook. You don't want to be like the fish, do you? Concentrate on the type of loan, the rate, and the cost to get that loan. Here is a list of Questions You Should Ask Prospective Loan Providers. Ask all of them with every conversation you have about what is the right loan for you, and the best rate and cost they can deliver on that type of loan. After you have settled on one provider (or a primary and a back up), it is then okay to ask about the bells and whistles that lenders (and every other sales organization) love to distract you with. If you want auto-pay, or biweekly payments, or a mortgage accelerator, these are just as much in the lender's best interest to offer you as they are convenient for you to have. I wouldn't pay for them, but many people think they're nice to have, and that's fine. Just don't let them distract you from what's really important: The price of the money you're buying.

Caveat Emptor


The Best Loans Right NOW

5.875% 30 Year fixed rate loan, with one total point to the consumer and NO PREPAYMENT PENALTIES!. Assuming a $400,000 loan, Payment $2366, APR 6.011! This is a thirty year fixed rate loan. The payment and interest rate will stay the same on this loan until it is paid off! 30 year fixed rate loans as low as 5.00 percent!

5/1 Rates will save you a lot of money!

Best 5/1 ARM: 5% even with 1 total point to the consumer, and NO PREPAYMENT PENALTIES! Assuming a $400,000 loan, Payment $2147 APR 5.129. This is a fully amortized loan with a fixed rate for the first five years. 5/1 ARM rates as low as 4.5 percent!

10 year interest only payments available on 30 year fixed rate loans!

Great Rates on temporary conforming, jumbo and super-jumbo loans also available!

Zero closing costs loans also available!

Yes, I still have 100% financing (full documentation) and stated income loans!

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

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

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

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

100% financing a specialty.

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

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


First off, neither the California Mortgage Loan Disclosure Statement nor the Federal Good Faith Estimate are promises, commitments, or anything more than your loan provider wants them to be. Quite often, they're nothing more than a fictional story told to get you to sign up for their loan. It's amazing and disgusting how much it's legal for lenders to lowball their quotes.

That said, there are three explanations as to why your rate is higher. They're not mutually exclusive by any means, but it has to be at least one of the three.

The one that reflects on you is that you somehow misrepresented your situation when you were getting that loan quote. In that case, you are no one's victim except your own. It is pointless to lie to a loan officer, and if you don't know the answer, you should say "I don't know" instead of making one up. This does happen, but it's probably the rarest of the three answers, and you should know if you did it. If you didn't do this, what's left is one or both of two common loan officer sins.

The less abusive of these is that the loan officer failed to lock the loan. This is either rank stupidity or frustrated avarice. Shorter rate locks are cheaper, and there's always the hope that rates will go down, so they can make more money on the same loan they quoted you. Of course, rates can go up, also, and they do so about fifty percent of the time. When that happens, they can either make less money, often to the point where delivering the original loan would cost them thousands of dollars, or they can deliver a loan with a higher rate. Since we're living in the real world here, which of these alternatives do you think is going to happen?

The more abusive alternative is that you were deliberately lowballed. There is always a tradeoff between rate and cost for real estate loans, and the person who gave you that quote told you about a loan that didn't exist. Either it always carried a rate much higher than you were told, or the loan officer ignored potentially many thousands of dollars it was going to cost all along. I see this happening literally every time I check a loan quote forum. I do business with eighty lenders, among which are the lenders who are most keen to compete based upon price. I know what's deliverable and what is not, every other loan officer I respect knows what is and is not deliverable, and I can't imagine anyone in their right mind wanting to do business with anyone who doesn't know whether what they quote is deliverable. It's not exactly confidence inspiring to be told essentially, "I can get you this loan, but I don't know if it really exists." I'm sure you'd line up for that loan like it was free beer, right?

Not really. But loan officers do this because none of the paperwork you get at the beginning of the loan process is in any way binding. Not for price, not for a loan at all. In fact, the only form that's required to give an accurate accounting of the costs is the HUD 1, which you don't get even in preliminary form until you are signing final loan documents. Loan officers do this because once you have signed up for their loan, you are likely to sign the final loan documents no matter how bad they are. Why is that? Because thirty days or so have gone by, you've got a deposit at risk that you're going to lose if you don't sign, and you're not going to get that house that you wanted badly enough to put yourself in debt for thirty years. I assure you that loan officers know that they will have you over a barrel when you go to sign final documents. Many of them are counting upon that from the day you sign up, and they'll tell you anything at loan sign up in order to get you to choose their loan, because it's not like any of this is binding on them.

Let me get one other thing out of the way to clear the air: You didn't get a higher rate because you somehow didn't qualify for the lower rate. The way people qualify for loans is based upon debt to income ratio and loan to value ratio, and of those two ratios, debt to income ratio is much more important. The lower the debt to income ratio, the more qualified you are. Debt to income ratio is a measure of the ratio of how your housing and expenses compare to your overall income. Lower interest rate means lower payments. Lower payments mean lower debt to income ratio, and hence, you become better qualified the lower the interest rate that is available. Counter-intuitive though it may be, it's easier to qualify you for a lower interest rate than a higher one. Any loan officer who offers you an excuse that you didn't qualify for the lower rate has just flat out told you that they are a liar.

What really happens is that while this loan officer was spinning you a tale of how great the rate you were supposedly going to get was (a loan officer's version of, "Yes I'll respect you in the morning"), in amongst all that creative storytelling, they neglected to account for the money you really are going to be paying, or even the money they admitted you were going to be paying.

However, we're dealing in the real world here. That money still needs to be paid.

There are three ways to pay it: Borrower cash, rolling it into your mortgage balance, or by giving you a higher rate. They have to tell you if they want more cash, and you may not have it. There's only so much equity in the property, particularly on a purchase where there is no playing of valuation games via a compliant appraiser. But since there is always a tradeoff between rate and costs, they can always create some more cash by sticking you with a higher rate, resulting in more cash available to pay for the things you were going to be paying from the very first. Often it means they'll make more money as well, for providing this "service", because "you were such a hard loan." Sticking you with a higher rate is often the only way they can pay for all the things that need to get paid. Yes, this means that you end up paying more for the low-ball deceiver's loan than for a loan where you were quoted something honest.

All of this is nothing more than practical effects of the common phenomenon of lenders low-balling their quotes to get you to sign up with them, knowing that when the time comes to actually deliver that loan, they will have all of the power and you will have none, which is a 180 degree reversal from the situation at sign up. They have this loan that you need right now, where anyone else will take time you probably don't have. If rates have gone up (once again, this happens about fifty percent of the time), even the lowest cost, most ethical provider in the world might not be able to deliver what this scumbag is offering you by signing his loan right now. If he's got the originals of your documents, you can't take your loan elsewhere. Finally, most people are tired of the whole loan thing by the time it comes to sign documents. Many folks won't examine the final documents carefully - figures I've seen say that over fifty percent of all borrowers literally never figure out that they were hosed by their lender, and on the ones who do figure it out, about eighty five percent will sign anyway because signing means they're done.

The games that lenders play are legion. They can lure you in with talk of low rate that exists, but costs you more than you'll ever recover. Whether they deliver that rate and soak you on the cost end, or switch it off for a higher one to pay the costs and make more money, is up to them. I see lenders quoting full documentation conforming loans for people who are known to be stated income, temporary conforming ("Jumbo conforming") or even non-conforming loans. Even for people who are full documentation and would have qualified if that loan existed at the costs they told you about, this need to raise the rate can move you to over to being a stated income loan because you no longer qualify full documentation at the higher rate. With stated income loans under the constraints they've encountered in the last few months, this not only means higher rates, but quite often means that no loan can be done, something completely alien to the thinking of many agents and loan officers who became accustomed to the Era of Make Believe Loans, and they haven't yet gotten their heads out of that mindset.

How can you avoid this? Ask all these questions of every loan provider, know what the red flags are if you encounter them, and take steps to protect yourself from being lowballed. A written loan quote guarantee is good, but can be hard to enforce immediately. Better yet is to apply for a back-up loan, so you have two loans ready to go. This is leverage to force one or the other of them to actually deliver something better than they are trying to.

You don't need to get victimized by any of the things that go on in the world of mortgage loans. But you have to understand that they do happen, and you have to take specific steps to prevent it from happening to you. Otherwise, you're just trusting to luck, and judging by what people have brought me from other providers, you'd need less luck to win the lottery so you can pay cash for the property.

Caveat Emptor


As I wrote a few days ago, the buyer's deposit is always at risk. This is just a fact of real estate transactions. I could pretend it's not so, but that wouldn't keep the deposit from being at risk - it would just make me a liar. Nonetheless, because it's cash that the buyer had to forego spending that money in order to painstakingly set it aside a few dollars at a time, they understand that the deposit is real money in no uncertain terms, where most don't have that same understanding about a loan that's probably fifty times bigger and just as real. It may be comparatively rare that the buyer's deposit is actually forfeit (As of yet, I haven't lost one), but by recognizing this fact and planning for it, I can protect a client's deposit far more effectively than anyone who pretends otherwise.

The first rule is to be careful writing the offer. I want to make certain that all offers (and counteroffers) consist of something my client qualifies for and that I can make happen. This is one of the best reasons why real estate agents want to know enough that they could do loans, even if they don't. If I wasn't a loan officer, I'd consult a loan officer before writing an offer. Review client qualifications and necessary loan guidelines before the offer is written. If the issues of whether the client can qualify and what needs to happen so they do qualify have already been solved, you start the transaction with the largest part of the road to successful completion already paved.

Related to this is the issue of a client getting cold feet, which is one of the most common ways to lose a deposit. The best way to solve this is by showing them enough properties that they really understand the value offered by this one. Some agents believe in pressure sales and glossing over problems with the property. I believe in meeting these issues head on. The first thing I tell folks at our first meeting is that there is no such thing as a perfect property. They need to decide what they're willing to live with and what they aren't, and how much they're willing to pay for not doing so. It's my job to make certain they understand what the issues are with a given property, and that they'd be happy paying the necessary price to live there. All of an agent's nightmare scenarios start with talking someone into buying a property they don't like, so I'm not going there ever. This also solves the "cold feet" before we make an offer, where someone who doesn't understand these issues is going to be in danger of cold feet at every bump in the road.

The main issue with all of the buyer contingencies is time. You have a certain number of days to deal with those contingencies. When I get them done well before the time limit, the time limit isn't a problem.

For the loan contingency, I want an automated underwriting decision ASAP. Usually, there are reasons not to do this before we've got that fully executed purchase contract, but once we have that contract, there's no reason whatsoever not to do it that day.

I also want to order inspection and appraisal immediately, to meet those contingencies. I've got seventeen days for those. If I've got the appraiser and inspector out there the next day, I should have their report within two to three business days after that. Any subsequent negotiations needed due to those reports, I can start on right away. If the seller isn't going to be reasonable (or reasonable enough), we can find out about it right away and if the buyer decides to walk away based upon these reports or subsequent negotiations, we're in a much better position to argue that they should retain the deposit than if it were twenty-five days into the transaction and now the deposit is in jeopardy regardless of whether the contingencies have been released in writing or not. All parties agreed the contingencies ran for seventeen days in the purchase contract, and if that period is up, there's an argument to be made that the deposit is forfeit. I'm not a lawyer, so I don't know if it's a good, valid, legal argument, but if the whole issue is moot because we're done on day ten, the argument never gets started.

While this is all going on, I'm getting any final loan stuff together. This includes Preliminary Title Report and Escrow information. That complete loan package should be submitted before I go home on the day I get the appraisal. If it's not done by then, something major is wrong. I can submit loan packages with the appraisal "to follow", but it's better to submit them complete in the first place, even if it does mean I've got to pay for color copies. Every time an underwriter touches a file, they can add conditions. Those conditions can effectively make a loan impossible, and far more loans are approved with impossible conditions than flatly rejected. Also, submitting a loan with minimal information is itself one of the best ways to raise red flags in an underwriter's mind, or would be if raising red flags in the underwriter's mind was a good thing. It isn't. Once red flags get raised, expect them to throw as many roadblocks at you as they can. Better to submit a clean, complete loan package as soon as possible. Doing the extra work right off the bat really does save you a lot of future work.

Even when refinances are running several weeks, purchases are usually no more than two days for underwriting. If you submitted a clean complete file, any prior to documents conditions you do get will minimal and trivial, and the funding conditions should be just the absolutely standard cookie cutter stuff. I don't like getting anything other than the routine funding conditions that happen on every transaction, because it means I have to get those conditions and wait a couple of days for the underwriter to get back to the file. This waste of time is my fault if it happens, but with the best will in the world, it will happen to you a pretty significant percentage of the time. It's not a disgrace, it's just something to avoid if you can get ahead of how underwriters think. You can always mark time if you have to, but you can't get it back once it's gone.

I believe in giving the seller and their agent a reasonable amount of time to hang themselves, but once the loan is submitted, I'm going to be asking about their responsibilities if I haven't gotten evidence they're done yet. Allowing them to hang themselves doesn't mean letting them hang my client. I want to see that termite inspection in particular before the end of seventeen days. The standard contract has the buyer responsible for section 2 work. It's never happened to me, but it's very possible that there's enough section 2 work needed to call the transaction into question. After seventeen days, this becomes more difficult for the buyer.

As soon as possible, I order the closing documents and get them signed. Even if you're not ready and able to close the transaction as a whole, this is a good idea. Something that's already done correctly isn't going to be an issue if my client gets called away on business - particularly out of the country as does happen. Notary work becomes a real issue outside the United States - it must be done at a US Consulate or Embassy. There is no exception for "Buyer had to leave the country" (or even just "go out of town") written into the time frames and contingencies on that purchase contract. I suppose you could ask for one, but it will make most sellers more than a little nervous, for tolerably obvious reasons. Better to know and plan in advance, but life happens. Better not to be bit if it does.

If I can get all the ducks in a row before the contingency period expires, not only does this preserve my buyers rights and give us an advantage in subsequent negotiations, but preserves as much as possible of my client's options to exit the transaction while preserving their right to recover the deposit. If I can close the entire transaction before the end of the contingency period, that makes me very very happy, and not just because I get paid sooner. It means that the issue of my client losing the deposit for walking away never comes up..

By finishing everything before the end of the contingency period, I've also preserved as much as possible of the right of specific performance in case the seller gets cold feet. It happens. Not so much right now, but a few years ago in the crazy seller's market, it happened because sellers thought they could get a higher price. If my buyer client is happy with the state of the contract as it sits, their lawyer can quite likely argue specific performance of the contract, and maybe recover legal costs too. Not my place to say whether or not, as I'm not a lawyer. I only know that lawyers seem to be much happier with agents that keep this information in mind.

If I can't close it before the end of contingency period (and I recently had signed loan documents sitting at escrow for two weeks while we waiting for the sellers to finish termite work), I still want to get together with my clients before the contingency period expires, put the evidence in front of them, and have them make a choice to continue or abort the transaction. Just because the contingencies haven't been released in writing is no reason that a seller's lawyer can't argue that they were released anyway. Much better if the argument never comes up because it's a moot point.

There is nothing I can do that generates an ironclad, foolproof guarantee that my client won't lose their deposit. But doing things the right way, quickly, can certainly make it a lot less likely than pretending that tje deposit isn't at risk. Lawyers and judges are the only ones who can answer the question of whether it has been forfeited, but it the issue is resolved without them getting involved, everybody is going to be happier. Neither party should have signed the purchase offer if they didn't want the transaction to happen on those terms set forth in the contract. Therefore, making it happen quickly, reliably, cleanly, and before the deadlines have passed is the best way to prevent making anyone unhappy.

Caveat Emptor

First of all I love the information on the site. I've done some research into buying a home and have talked to several people who have bought homes and I can never believe the stories I've heard. My response is always "why didn't you just walk out . . it's only a $2000 deposit . . . you're paying that in the first year with the difference in interest you are getting now" but after reading your site it seems to me you would have to get lucky to find a good mortgage broker and get a good loan where what you are told is what you get. The rule seems to be if you want a house "getting screwed" is just a part of the process. In this market (DELETED) you would need to be especially lucky to find someone who is willing to be honest . . . it's a risk and, again, it seems to me being honest is will just lead all clients to the fibbers who, frankly, tell people what they want to hear.

Anyway, back in May 2003 I was looking for a house and a friend of mine was looking to invest $70,000 (that he got from another land sale) so he wouldn't have to pay taxes on it. We ended up buying a $150,000 home where I live now. By "we", I mean "he" because my name couldn't be on the loan for tax purposes (at least that's what they told us . . . it's hard to get good information). And, I know, I know, I have no rights and he can do whatever he wants and I understand that. If anything I've had a place to live where the rent was relatively low (but it sucks that I didn't get a house when they were affordable). I've been living in this house and paying the mortgage for more than 3 years now. I'm in a much better financial situation now and I'd like to buy the house from him. He also has another $70,000 from another land sale (I'm not sure of the details but suffice to say he is thinking about paying off the mortgage). Anyway, once all this happens I want to buy the house from him at a price way below market (similar houses are now around $300,000 but there is no way I'm paying $300,000 when I could have gotten it for $150,000 when I moved in). My question is: can a seller also be a lender? Where do I start? I've talked to a few people and they won't touch it . . . in fact, they have no advice whatsoever beside for me to move out and get my own house (which they would be happy to help me with). What are the tax implications of all this?

Thanks again.

If it was inevitable that you would get screwed as part of doing a real estate transaction, most of the information on this website would be useless and pointless. Furthermore, if it was inevitable, I'm not certain it would be appropriate to call it "getting screwed," if it happened on every transaction. What I'm trying to do here is give folks the tools to get correct relevant information, make rational informed choices, find honest competent service providers (it is not as difficult as I may make it seem sometimes, but neither is it easy!), and in general have a better outcome, which is the target you really want to hit. How much effort you want to spend is up to the individual reader. If you want to do only the easiest and most basic items, it should still make a significant difference. If you want to go whole hog, you should see much larger benefits.

Now, as to your specific situation, here are the issues I see:

First off, I have never heard of a situation where you cannot be on the title "for tax purposes." The only tax purposes that would serve is allowing the other person to get the entire deduction, which he would anyway from being the only person on the loan. As soon as the loan is recorded, there is no reason why there could not have been a quitclaim from him to him and you (in whatever manner you desired to hold it, most likely tenants in common in this case). This would have started the clock on having you on title, and since you cannot refinance for cash out within six months of having your name put on title via quitclaim, this constrains your options as well as putting you at your friend's mercy. You may have been paying the mortgage, but even if you can prove it this is unlikely to give you any legal rights if your friend decides not to play it straight.

The next issue, relatively minor, is that you have no verifiable history of paying either rent or mortgage payments at this point. Those checks you have been writing to pay the mortgage in your friend's name? Well, that mortgage is being reported as paid, but your name is not on it. Rent? Not there either.

However, assuming this really is a friend who intends to play it straight with you, this situation is very workable. If it was someone who wanted to work you over, you would be well and truly hosed. Now, you bought for $150,000, of which your friend furnished $70k. The loan for the remainder that you have been paying for sure looks like your contribution to me! By my reading, this makes him approximately 7/15ths owner, and you 8/15ths, but if your friend has been playing it straight, he's done you a pretty big favor not just by tying up his money in the down payment, but by allowing his credit to be used for your loan. This has effects on his debt to income ratio if he wants another loan, among other things. I wouldn't mind ceding him a larger share of ownership in your case.

Whatever the amounts of ownership you agree upon, however, you are also going to need to agree on a method for valuation. I'd probably agree to something like the average of a Comparative Market Analysis of sold properties in your area, and an appraisal. Appraisals are not what you could get on the market in the current conditions, and don't try to think that they are, but both measurements can be manipulated. Pay for each of them in equal shares. As compared to each of your investments, it's small potatoes, and a worthwhile guard.

You have an agreed valuation, and an agreed upon share of ownership. Out of that, you currently have a loan on your share, but that should probably be your issue, not the partnership's. So from that, you can figure what your friend's current share of ownership is, and therefore what he is due upon buy out. You should still have a pretty good ownership equity, roughly $80,000 by the rough amounts and ownership shares in the previous paragraph. So you need to come up with about $80,000 to pay off the current loan, plus about $140,000 (again, by the computations as to ownership share above, subject to revision per your agreement) to pay off your friend. Total owed: $220,000.

Now, your friend actually want to go from owner to lender, and I don't know of anything wrong with that, although in all truth I've never encountered it before in this context (seller carrybacks happen all the time in this market). Furthermore, he wants to invest an additional $70,000 in being the lender. Whereas this will not qualify for 1031 tax deferred treatment as far as I can see (consult a tax professional), this means you are going to have two loans on the property, one from a regular lender, and one from your friend. The specifics of this are difficult to see without more information, and shopping your situation around (I'm not licensed in your state, so I can't put my wholesalers through that for no potential pay off!). It could well be that your friend's loan ends up in second position, but it strikes me as more likely appropriate for a first, as the guidelines for Home Equity Loans and Home Equity Lines of Credit are more likely to have this whole situation be acceptable to your lender for the balance.

Now, as to the structure of the transaction, it's going to look like a sale, but don't expect real estate agents to want to work through that without a commission, which you are probably not going to want to pay, because all of the hard work to the transaction is kind of irrelevant in your case. On the other hand, good loan officers do these all the time. However, the commission structure for Home Equity Loans and Lines of Credit leaves them not making a whole lot of money unless you agree to pay them a flat fee for going through all of this, and for all the times I tell people that transactions aren't as difficult as some loan providers would have you believe, this is a very difficult transaction. I normally work on less than one point of total compensation for loans but I'd probably want to see about $6000 in order to put this transaction through, and that's if everything else is perfect. I don't know about your state's predatory lending law (most states have one, limiting total loan costs to a certain percentage of the loan), which may well prevent them from getting paid enough to make the transaction worthwhile for them. By comparison, on a loan of about $80,000 plus transaction costs, which is what the computations above suggest, California's predatory lending law limits total cost of the loan (and also total lender compensation via another law) to $4800. In most cases, direct lenders can basically ignore this by jacking the rate up so that they can sell the loan for more on the secondary market, but brokers cannot. And whereas that's way more than plenty in most situations, in this case it is not.

The reason why I'd want that much money is that, on top of everything else, this is a related party transaction. You are effectively selling from a partnership to one of the partners. That is going to mandate shopping lenders not only for price, but for willingness to do the transaction based upon the situation. We're going to need a very flexible lender, probably sub-prime. A paper Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac is right out. We are going to have to document an awful lot of stuff, and there are a number of points on which the loan can fall apart. You're also probably going to want this to be a short term loan without a pre-payment penalty, so that you can refinance after you've been on title six months or so, because you'll be able to get a better rate then (unless rates have skyrocketed). All this stuff adds to the complexity, and whether the loan will get funded or not is not something I can control by paying attention to underwriting guidelines like I can in other cases. This requires a lender who's willing to issue some waivers and exceptions, and I might have to submit this loan several times to different lenders over a period of months before it actually funds. That's probably the reason nobody wants it: They can't get paid enough to make it worthwhile. The predatory lending law may have good intentions, but in this particular case it's making life difficult for the consumer because brokers can't get paid enough to make it worth their while, and any given direct lender (especially the ones that consumers see, which tend strongly toward the high quality cookie cutter loan) is unlikely to have sufficiently flexible guidelines. You could go to a hard money lender, of course, but those rates are about fourteen percent or so, which causes most consumers to say, "Never mind!"

There is one other alternative. He could use that cash to buy you out, at which point he is left with basically his current loan, and I think this might even qualify for 1031 deferral (but consult a qualified tax professional before doing anything). If he can't rent it out for enough to have a positive cash flow under those circumstances, something is very badly wrong. He verifies that you've been paying rent/mortgage/whatever, and away you go with $70,000 or so in your pocket and all the leverage a qualified buyer has in a very strong buyer's market, and yours becomes a very easy transaction. I think you could do very well for yourself, given what little I know of your particular market at this point in time.

Caveat Emptor

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This page is a archive of recent entries written by Dan Melson in June 2008.

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