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Using the Information Found Here


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caveat Emptor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caveat Emptor.

One of the things the place I work does to attract clients is advertise foreclosure lists to our clients. Several times a week, people call and ask for the lists, and we say, "Great! Just come on down, fill out a loan package and an agency agreement, and we'll get them to you fresh every morning, and when you see one you might be interested in, we'll help you get it!"

Before the end, over 95% of the people have stopped us, saying they are already working with someone. "I just want the foreclosure list. Can't I get it?" Well, we pay money for that. Why should we give it to someone who is not our client and has the ability to pay for it on their own? Why didn't their agent get it for them? (Everyone can get a weekly list for free from the county - but that list is worthless except as a timewaster, because that list is three to ten days out of date and they've already been swarmed.) If they want to work the foreclosure market, they should have signed up with an agent who has daily foreclosure lists. They haven't even found a property they are interested in yet, and already they know their agent isn't cutting the mustard for their purposes. But they are still stuck with them.

Another trick high margin ("expensive") people use is social groups. Nothing wrong with social groups and using people you know there, but make certain you're not paying three or five times the going rate for a loan, and that your agent really knows what they are doing before you sign on the dotted line. Church groups, soccer coaches, scoutmasters - I can't tell you all of the social acquaintances I've rescued people who became my clients from. These predators look at other members of the group as a captive audience. It isn't so, of course, those people have the option of going elsewhere - it's just difficult socially, and many of them are unwilling to make the effort.

One of the worst of these is family. Your brother, sister, aunt, or nephew is in the business, and your family makes it difficult not to choose them. "You simply must use your sister Margaret!" Well, if subsidizing Margaret to the tune of two points more than anyone else would get is your cup of tea. Around here, that's $8000 or so for the average transaction. You are not writing the check for the extra to Margaret directly, but you're paying her just the same.

Lest I be misunderstood here, there is nothing wrong with using friends, family, members of your social group. Please do check with them. The mistake is not in giving them a shot; it lies in giving them the only chance. That's what you call a monopoly situation, and the chances of you getting the best possible treatment are horrid. But if Aunt Marge or Uncle Bob know you're shopping around, they have more incentive to do their best work. If they know you're not, well I hate to break it to you, but the average person is looking for a bigger paycheck for the same work, and this includes friends, family, and social acquaintances, particularly because you are not the one writing the check, but you will pay for it, guaranteed. The worst mess I've ever had to clean up was caused by my client's uncle, who had been in the business twenty years, and was trying to extort just a little too much money for the deal to work.

On the other hand, when my cousin calls me out of the blue, I can cut him a deal because here is a transaction that I didn't have to spend time and money on wrestling it in the door; it walked in of its own volition. This is far and away the toughest part of any transaction, and one of the most expensive to any real estate practitioner - getting a potential client into your office. It's why the "big names" spend so much on advertising nationally, and give their folks half (or less) of the cut a smaller place will give them. (Hint: just like in financial planning or any other service, what's important is always the capabilities and conscientiousness of the individual performing the service, not the company).

So here's how you live up to the social expectations. Give them a shot, but not the only shot. If you are looking to buy and they are an agent, sign a non-exclusive buyer's agreement with them. This gives you free rein to work with other folks as well; just don't sign any exclusive agreements. Most agents, unfortunately, want to lock up the commission that your business represents and so they will present you with an exclusive agreement. The harder they argue for an exclusive agreement, the more you should avoid them. All an exclusive agreement does is lock you in with one agent. If they are a lazy twit, you either have to wait until the agreement expires, use them for your transaction anyway, or hope you can get them to voluntarily release you. There is no way for you to force them to let you go. I get search phrases like "breaking an exclusive buyer's agreement" hitting the site every day. The only two ways to break an exclusive agreement are 1) wait for it to expire, or 2) get them to voluntarily let you go. I've never heard of the latter happening. So don't sign an exclusive agreement in the first place. Sign a non-exclusive agreement. This puts all of the motivations for work on your side, where they belong. The one who finds the property you are interested in will get the commission, but they have to work for it, as your business isn't locked up.

This also gives you an out if Aunt Marge or Uncle Bob doesn't cut the mustard. You can tell anybody who gets their nose out of joint, including them, that you gave them the opportunity to earn your business, and somebody else did a better job. The other guy saved you money, the other guy found you the property you wanted, the other guy got you a better loan. You wanted to do business with them, but they didn't measure up. Case closed, and Aunt Marge or Uncle Bob will drop it if they are smart, because the more stink they raise, the more likely it is that another family member, friend, or social acquaintance will pass them by in favor of "Could you give me the name of that guy who helped you?"

The only exception to the non-exclusive buyer's agreement is if they are giving you a service that you would otherwise have to pay money for. I am not talking about Multiple Listing Service - those are free and plentiful. I'm talking about real time information not available to the general public - like daily foreclosure listings. Our office pays hundreds of dollars per month for that as a way to bring in business. It is reasonable for someone working the foreclosure market thusly to be asked to sign an exclusive agreement, because otherwise there may be no way to determine who introduced you to the property (Lawyer's Full Employment Act strikes again!)

For sellers, unfortunately, you've got to make a commitment to list with one agent. It's just the way it has to be, economically, in order to get them to commit to spending the kind of money it takes to get a good result. But you can interview more than one agent. What are they going to do to sell your property for the highest possible price? Put it in the contract when you do sign. Everybody can put it in the MLS, and during the bull housing market we had for years, where unless the property was obviously overpriced you'd get multiple offers within a week, a lot of monkeys masquerading as agents made a good living doing that and only that. That doesn't cut the mustard any more. I work more with buyers than sellers, but there are venues that sell the property, venues that bring people to open houses, venues that generate people looking for the cheap bargain (which you don't want) and venues that generate people looking for property like yours in your neighborhood (who is your ideal buyer). Especially in a major city, these are all different venues, and the agent who knows which one is which is worth more than you will pay them, and the cheap agent who doesn't is likely to cost you a lot more money than their cheap asking price saves you.

For loans, I've written about this before, but shop around, ask questions of every loan provider you interview, beware of red flags, and stick to your guns. Try and find someone to act as a backup loan provider if you can, and do the work so both loans are ready to go when you need them. If you get multiple volunteers for backup provider, that would tend to indicate that they know that the loan you're telling them about isn't real. That's the question I ask before I volunteer to put in the work of a backup provider. "Could the loan they are telling me about be real?" If the answer is no, I volunteer to act as backup. Every single time, it's been my loan the person ended up getting. Your prospective loan providers should know the market if they are competent. Make use of that knowledge. And lest you be tempted to quote something at those loan officers that is not real, it's a self-defeating strategy. Honest loan officers will tell you point blank they can't do that, while the scamsters are going to get into the spirit of the situation, by which I mean saying anything it takes, no matter how fanciful, to get you to sign up. And those who are knowledgeable about the state of the market always know what is likely real and deliverable, and what likely is not.

Caveat Emptor.

People ask for referrals all the time, and many folks will stumble all over themselves to provide referrals. Some of them really are excellent providers. Others are not so good, but the person providing the referral has an agenda of their own, and you have to be aware of the possibility. Never give anyone your business without shopping it around just because someone referred you to a certain provider.

In many cases, the reason why you are referred to Company X Realty or Company Y Loans has nothing to do with any allegations of them being an efficient, diligent, effective or inexpensive provider of those services. Number one on the list of reasons why people tell you about X Realty or Y Loans is because company X or company Y refers business back to them. This isn't illegal, but when you ask a real estate agent for a referral to a low cost mortgage provider and you get referred to one of the ones that's competing on the basis of consumer name recognition, you should realize that the mortgage providers with national advertising campaigns are not among the low cost providers. For analogous reasons, I usually advise people to stay away from the national realty chains, even if they're not local to me. But I digress. The point is that the person who refers you to this person is effectively getting paid by referring you to them. Not exactly a sterling reason to trust their motivations in making this referral.

Indeed, this is one of the ways that lenders in particular avoid competing on price. Ladies and gentlemen, so long as it is the same type loan on the same terms, a loan is a loan is a loan. The only real difference is the tradeoff between rate and cost, or, in other words, price. But lenders do not want to compete on price, because that means they don't make very much money. In fact, they want to avoid competing on price, and the captive audience from referral business is one prime example of how they do it. Joe Realtor sends Jane Lender business because Jane refers business right back to Joe Realtor, and because the client has been told that Jane Lender gives great loans at a great rate, the client doesn't shop loan providers like they might otherwise have done, leaving Jane a freer hand to charge a higher markup.

These are not the only reasons why referrals happen. For instance, here in San Diego, many real estate agents will refer to one particular loan officer because they know that loan officer won't tell the client any inconvenient truths, such as, "You cannot really afford this house." They refer to this loan officer because that loan officer will just keep their mouth shut and put the negative amortization loan through, and everybody gets their commission check. But this sort of thing happens in markets where there are affordability issues for the average person.

Finally, explicit kickbacks are illegal, and there are limits on how often Joe and Jane can buy each other dinner out or whatever arrangement they have to transfer wealth, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen sometimes. After all, there aren't any Department of Real Estate employees following Joe and Jane around 24 hours per day, so this kind of stuff gets hidden all the time. I've had more than one blatantly illegal offer of referrals for kickbacks since I've been in the business. Some of these folks are brazen. No, there's no percentage in turning them in, either. This is one of those situations the saying about, "No good deed goes unpunished," was invented for. One guy who did turn someone in years ago told me about the thousands of dollars in legal fees he incurred, plus three years of investigation that shows up on your license as an unresolved complaint. No thank you. Sometimes, you have to content yourself with remaining apart from any illegalities, while warning people that this sort of thing does happen.

Caveat Emptor

While I have been reading the site for about a year, I have tended to gloss over or completely ignore the posts regarding real estate and purchasing a home. That is, until about two weeks ago when I had a conversation with my parents and decided that I want to stop being a renter and instead purchase my first home this spring. I have tried to wade through your numerous posts on Home Buying and Real Estate but am having trouble finding a nice, organized timeline of posts to read. Could you perhaps help me by providing a suggested reading list of your posts for a soon-to-be first time home buyer, in the order that
you think I should read them?

Thanks for your time. I appreciate all of the work you put into the site.


The organization on the site is not intended to be in any kind of order. Still, I'll go over a few of the most important ones that everyone needs to know.

Should I Buy a Home? series

Preparation, Process, and Consequences

The companion articles on why renting is for suckers and when you should not buy:
Why Renting Is For Suckers and When You Should Not Buy Real Estate

Why There is Money in Fixer Properties

Then read my basic series on loans: The Mortgage Loan Disclosure Statement, parts I and II, Truth in Lending, and HUD 1, and why you should ignore APR.

The California Mortgage Loan Disclosure Statement (MLDS) Part I, The California Mortgage Loan Disclosure Statement (MLDS) Part II, Truth In Lending, HUD 1, Why You Should Ignore APR

Now you're ready for the advice on shopping a loan, and dealing with agents. In no particular order

Payment, Interest Rate and Up Front Costs: Choosing a loan Intelligently
Mortgage and Real Estate Red Flags
Levels of Mortgage Documentation, or, Why You Should Demand to Do More Paperwork
Questions You Should Ask Prospective Loan Providers
Available Real Estate Loan Types
Fixed rate, Balloon, ARM and Hybrid Loans
One Loan Versus Two Loans
The Best Idea About Applying for a Mortgage
Loan Rate Sheets: An example, and the games lenders play
Mortgage Loan Rate Locks
Loan Quote Guarantees

On dealing With Real Estate Agents:

Buyer's Agents: What Do They Do?
Production Metrics versus Consumer Metrics
Exclusive versus Non-Exclusive Buyer's Agent Agreement

Then then while the whole thing is in process, come back and read as much as you have time for.

I'm exploring book publication, organized in more or less the chronological order you need to know everything.

(If anyone has access to a good literary agent, I'm interested!)

How do you transfer house ownership after someone dies and leaves you the house in a will?

The will must be probated. Once all debts of the estate are paid and the court agrees to a final disposition of assets, the executor will then create a deed giving whoever it is title to the property. It may or may not be part of the executor's job to record the deed with the county - so make certain it gets done yourself if you are the inheritor. It may cost a little ($65 locally), but it prevents huge problems down the road.

Now if there's a loan or other liens in effect, the mere fact that your predecessor died does not render them in any way invalid. Most specifically, Trust Deeds have the power to foreclose if the payments are not made in a timely manner. Sometimes the estate has the money to pay them off; more often it does not and somebody better keep making those payments during probate, which lasts a legal minimum of 9 months, or the issue will be academic before probate is resolved. Nor can estates, in general, secure financing, so refinancing the loan can be difficult. Relatively few dead people earn significant amounts of money.

On the other hand, if your property is in a Trust, then there is no probate on that part of the estate. Title to the property passes basically immediately to the successor trustee, who must comply with whatever instructions are made in the trust with regard to the property, but is otherwise free to do with it as they will within the limitations of the law. Among other issues encountered in probate but not here, this permits refinancing in whatever name happens to have the income to keep making the payments.

Caveat Emptor.

An email I got Tuesday November 28, 2006:

My husband and I are not specifically on the market at the moment for a property but are always on the lookout for a great bargain. We have children, so school district is a big factor, but if the right place for the right price comes around, we'd definitely be interested in potentially buying a house, as we're ready to settle down. We don't mind a fixer-upper, but aren't looking to do any major, "needs a contractor" work. Our price range is under 400K, as we intend to wrap any debt into our mortgage. We both have good jobs — I work for NAME DELETED as a loan specialist and he is a DELETED — but aren't looking to kill ourselves with a mortgage payment, especially once you wrap taxes and insurance into the whole deal.

(emphasis mine)


This person is a loan officer, and they're wanting to do something that is FRAUD. I mean, I know it goes on, but to be propositioned cold, via the first email I got from this person, to commit a felony (or aid in its commission, thereby making me guilty of conspiracy, another felony) just blows my mind. Admittedly, this particular company is one where you don't have to be licensed to work for them, but still, you should know the big issues like this, and perhaps at least pretend to have some respect for the law and good business practice.

My response?

You do realize that lenders don't go along with this, don't you? Purchase money loans if the purchase price is $400k and the seller gives you back 20k to pay off your debts, the effective purchase price is $380,000 - not $400,000. If you don't conceal it the loan doesn't work. If you do conceal it, it's fraud.

I could use the business. But not so badly as to get involved in this.

No thank you.

Her response?

I may have misrepresented myself and my goals to you. Don't be so quick to judge.

Oh, so now instead of soliciting my cooperation in felony fraud, she's committing entrapment. And I'm supposed to think this is better.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have a firm policy here of not naming specific malefactor companies or individuals (unless they pop up and name themselves!). Telling people how bad any one company in particular may be is beside the point of this website. I'm trying to make a living, and also give people the tools to use to judge as to whether or not they are being lied to, abused, etcetera in their specific instance - what people can do to prevent it, what they can do to improve their situation, what they should do if all the other tools fail and everything falls apart.

However, this one particular company represented by the alleged person in question is one on whom I have extensive amounts of evidence as to how bad their rates are, how misleading their business practices are, how badly they low ball their quotes, and in general, how shoddily they treat the customers that put money in their pocket. If I was going to list the two companies in the mortgage industry that (in my honest opinion) everyone should stay away from, this company would be on that list.

So it is very tempting to name names publicly, just this once. However, the lawyers would then get involved to no particularly good effect for anyone, and this very large company has a lot more resources than I do. Furthermore, I suspect, although I cannot prove, that I might be hurting a very few good loan officers who happen to work for this company in addition to all of the bad ones - and there are a lot of the bad ones working for this company. Finally, as I explained above, the point if this site is not revenge, and it's not punishing evildoers. I am not the Count of Monte Cristo, nor am I a law officer, a prosecutor, or a judge. I'm a loan officer and a Realtor® who is also trying to give people real tools to judge their situations and achieve a better result. So if you are reading this, back off. I will not name names unless you force me to. But solicitations of fraud, and entrapment, from people who should know better and go out of their way to be jerks, really pisses me off, and if you want to force my hand, I really won't regret it very much. I guarantee it will hurt you a lot worse than it will hurt me. Instead of trying to entrap me into a felony, just go away and pretend I don't exist. The type of suckers who are your bread and butter don't read this website anyway, or they sure as heck wouldn't patronize your company!

On a regular basis, I get emails that ask me what I think of a particular company. When I check out public forums, I see questions about particular companies every time. "What do you think of X Realty, or Y Mortgage?"

Reputation has a certain value of course, but in my experience, these people are overvaluing reputation. These people are looking for a "silver bullet" solution to their situation that lets them relax, and there aren't any. They want to be taken care of without doing the mental work of figuring out whether the person is really doing a good job. "This is a great company, and great company would never take advantage of me, so I must be getting a great bargain!"

This utterly leaves aside any number of issues. Suppose the Mortgage Firm of Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe were paying me a fee for every referral. Most people might have justifiable concerns about whether my recommendation was motivated by that fee or by the desire to get them a great loan. Well if you're chumming for a recommendation, you have no idea if the anonymous person recommending the firm of Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe is a virtuous benefactor - or one of their loan officers. The bigger the firm, the more loan officers they have. Huge National Megacorporation can have hundreds of their loan officers log on to the website anonymously and all endorse National Megacorporations loan programs for some mysterious reason. Suppose the person isn't affiliated with Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe, but does work for a similar firm. They could be trying to build demand for the same sort of operation that feeds them, so when people read about Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe's methods being recommended, and then encounter this similar firm, they are ready to do business.

Suppose the person answering is a complete babe in the woods? They just plain have no idea. They've never gotten a loan, or if they have, they got took just as badly as anyone else in the history of the world, and worse than most. Does the possibility of such a anonymous recommendation for the Mortgage firm of Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe seem like a thing you want to follow? Unless you audit that person's transaction and compare it to other similar transactions going on at the same time, you have no real idea whether this person would recognize a scam if it bit them. Even if you do audit their transaction, that doesn't necessarily mean anything, good or bad, for your situation.

Suppose the reason they thought Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe did a good job was because they didn't pay attention. They've read every single one of my articles, and they understand all of the things that could go wrong, and they actually know how to read a HUD 1 form, but they just didn't bother because their Uncle Joe works for Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe, and they trust Uncle Joe completely, and Uncle Joe would never take advantage of them. This ignores the issue that Uncle Joe is unlikely to be your loan officer, and even if he was, Uncle Joe may have compunctions about his family that do not apply to you. Furthermore, a very large fraction of the most unethical stuff I've seen since I've been in this business was Uncle Joe (or Brother Moe, or Sister Sue, or Cousin Lu) raking people over the coals who they knew would not shop around for a better deal. But even if they are completely unrelated, they decided to trust Joe, and didn't do the diligence that would have told them whether Joe was doing a good job, let alone the best possible job.

Now in both the loan and in the real estate business, service is provided by individuals, not companies. It's the guy you're sitting down talking to right here that decides how much of a margin they are going to work on, not some mysterious exalted Chief Operating Officer in New York City. That COO may lay out base requirements that say "no more than X, no less than Y", but it's the person doing your loan, or the agent doing your transaction, that decides where in that spectrum you fall. And I shouldn't have to point out that if they say "The corporate president says we have to make at least two points on every loan!" and somebody else offers you a better loan for you, that's their problem, not yours. They are not getting, or at least they should not get your business if you know of a better possibility. You don't owe anyone your business.

Finally, every situation is unique. People ask me what I think of a particular lender, and I'm thinking about the clients they'll do well with, or the clients where that particular lender's programs are most competitive. The lender with the best thirty year fixed rate mortgage in the business is not a lender I would use for an 80/20 short term piggyback on someone with a 600 credit score. That particular lender doesn't want to touch 100 percent financing, and refuses to do business at all with anyone whose credit score is less than 620. The lender I'd most likely use for the latter borrower has a rate and cost tradeoff for their loans that knocks them completely out of contention for the A paper full documentation 80 percent LTV thirty year fixed rate loan with no prepayment penalty. They're not competitive for that borrower, and both that account executive and I know it. They'd be grateful to me for placing the loan with them, and they'd certainly get it done, but my wholesalers and I have an understanding: The lender who has a program that can deliver the lowest rate cost tradeoff on the best terms for the client gets the business. They don't want to compete on price, but a good loan officer forces them to do precisely that. And if the wholesaler is one of those who refuses to compete on the basis I want them to compete on, there are plenty who will. Don't BS me about service. Everybody should have great service. If you don't have great service, we're not meant for each other, and the lenders I already do business with all have great service. What I want is a great loan for this client that you can actually deliver on time. If you've got that, we may have some business. If you haven't got that, we don't. This point, incidentally, is one of the reasons you'll end up with a better loan from a good brokerage than you will from the best lender. A broker knows how to shop loans better than any ordinary consumer.

This isn't to say you should just trust a broker. Indeed, my point is that you shouldn't trust anyone. Shop around, compare what's available, ask them what for written guarantees, verify everything, and don't give them your dollars to hold hostage until they've actually delivered. That's why I put out the yardsticks for measuring performance I do, that's why I give you the strategies for finding the people who will do a better job, and for forcing them to actually do a better job. You can't know if something is a good bargain except by comparison with something else like it, or several somethings. Given the amount of legal wiggle room there is, unless you pin a loan officer or real estate agent down with specific guarantees and conditions in writing, what they actually deliver is completely dependent upon their good will. If they have good will, you don't need to work nearly so hard, although comparison shopping would still be a really good idea. But if a decent proportion of agents and loan officers had goodwill, there would be a lot fewer problems with the industry.

Caveat Emptor.

Not too long ago on a property I was selling I called an agent up on the day a transaction was supposed to close. He asked me the question, "Well who says it has to close today?"

"The contract that both of our clients agreed to," I told him, "I'll be bringing over a notice to perform later today."

He got all huffy and defensive and tried to talk me out of it, of course. His client was having difficulty finalizing the loan. He offered to fax me over a loan commitment, and it wasn't even in compliance with the purchase contract. The other agent didn't have a clue, being unwilling to take the few minutes to figure out what it said. Buyer's market or no buyer's market, he got the notice to perform as fast as I could take it to him. I didn't fax it; that could have been claimed to go astray. I hand carried it over. My client kept the deposit.

The issue at stake, most critical to sellers, but important for buyers also as well as costly to borrowers, is time. That seller can only have one escrow transaction on their property in the works at one time. If this buyer cannot perform in a timely fashion, they are spending money they would not otherwise have spent because of it. In most cases they are paying for an extra place to live while this joker of a buyer, or more precisely their agent or loan officer, bumbles about and wastes time. Around here, that's usually thousands of dollars per month. It has gotten to the point where one of the options I always consider is asking for an explicit "per day" escrow extension penalty for my client right in the purchase contract. That way, the buyer had better know right up front there is a deadline and will not treat it in some lackadaisical fashion, and if their agent does, well that's between them. Of course, in a buyer's market like this one, it scares a lot of buyers away, so discretion is advised.

Another way to cut unnecessary expense to my listing clients is a leaseback clause. What this means is that they can stay in the property, paying only appropriate daily rental on an equivalent property, for 30 to 60 days after the transaction records. That way, they don't have to arrange for new housing ahead of time; they can wait until the transaction is actually finalized, and. Of course, this means the buyer doesn't get possession right away, which many of them don't like, to say the least. They've gone to all this trouble to qualify for the property, scrimped and saved and now they're paying a mortgage and don't have the property. Nonetheless, it's a viable alternative to penalty clauses and sits a lot better at the beginning of the process when many of them are nervous about qualifying. As one final note to this idea, in order to get "owner occupied" loan rates as opposed to higher "investment property" rates, most lenders have a requirement to move in within 30 days, and this can, theoretically, create a conflict for the buyer.

On the flip side, suppose the seller is unable to perform? Cannot deliver good title, cannot get the clearances and inspections done, cannot get their lender to approve a Short Payoff, any one of a number of issues? Now the buyer is sitting here with an approved loan, and the clock is ticking on their rate lock. I always want a rate lock that will cover the entire contracted escrow period, but I don't want my clients to pay for a longer lock than they have to. So now the contracted escrow period is up and my client's loan is ready to go and the documents have been signed and it's ready to fund and for the entire transaction to record, but the seller is sitting over there with their thumb metaphorically you-know-where and the rate extensions are costing my client a tenth of a point for five days or a quarter point for fifteen (depending upon the lender), always charged in full on the first day of the extension. On a $500,000 loan, a tenth of a point is about $500, and a quarter is about $1250. In a buyer's market, like this one, it may be a good idea to pre-negotiate a "seller unable to perform" penalty.

Of course, in most transactions, it's not the buyer and seller who are really at fault. It's the agent or the loan officer. They are getting paid for getting it done on time, among other things, and they are dropping the ball, either due to a "manana mindset" or because they are responsible for too many transactions or because they don't want to tell their client they have to spend some money, or because they're just an incompetent flake.

For loan officers, add "they promised a loan they couldn't deliver" to the list. It happens disturbingly often, as the incentives are in place to promise the moon in order to get you to sign up, then play the "wait and hope" game of waiting and hoping the market drops far enough that they can deliver something that at least looks similar to what they promised. There are no loan extension fees in this case, or at least there shouldn't be, because to lock your loan would defeat the entire purpose of "wait and hope." On the other hand, in those situations the market has a distinct tendency to rise, and when it does, you pay the new rates that are even higher than what was really available at the time and that you could have had if you has listened to the guy who told you that rate really wasn't available. If the rate is locked and the rates go up, I don't care and neither does my client. If the rate is locked and the rates go down, a broker can offer a lender a choice between losing the loan and giving their client the better rates, and resubmit it elsewhere if they take the former choice. If the rate is not locked, you are stuck with whatever happens in the market. Period.

The point of this article is that it is likely to save you money to get everything done right away, and even if the other side in the transaction doesn't, it puts you in a much stronger position from the point of view of negotiating, or from the a legal perspective if the whole transaction goes down in flames. Yes, an appraisal is somewhere between $300 and $500. Yes, a building inspection is about the same. Yes, the other reports run into some significant money, as well. But delaying will cost you more, which may be measured in terms of small percentages of the overall transaction, but when you do the math, it works out to thousands of dollars, not mere hundreds.

Don't wait for the deadlines. Definitely don't wait until after the deadlines. They are there for a reason, and they will cost you money. Get it done right now, and if your agent or loan provider will not or can not, document it. Loan providers you can drop any time until you sign the documents and often afterward, but you typically are stuck with agents once the transaction begins, at least until it finishes. Nonetheless, wouldn't you really rather that agent (or their insurance) was liable to cover your losses plus the cost of recovery? Document their failures to indemnify yourself.

Caveat Emptor.

Copyright 2005, 2006, 2007 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved


Dan Melson's San Diego Real Estate and Mortgage Website

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