Beginner's Information: August 2007 Archives

It has become very trendy to ask for pre-approvals on loans, because so many escrows are falling through. Unfortunately, as I have explained in the past, Loan Pre-Approval Means Nothing, and prequalification means even less. Both are literally wasted paper. As far as actually meaning anything you can hold someone to, they're useless. Worse than used toilet paper, which was actually put to some useful purpose once upon a time.

I never trust either a pre-qualification or pre-approval unless I did it. As I've said before, there is no accepted standard for either. Furthermore, I doubt there ever will be. Agents aren't asking for these pieces of waste paper because they're concerned about their listing clients. They're asking for them to cover their own backside so they don't get sued when the transaction falls apart.

Now there's no way on this earth that you can promise that owner that the transaction isn't going to fall apart. Accepting any offer always has some attached risk. If the buyer can't actually get the loan funded, the seller is out of luck as far as getting that purchase price for the property, and you'll have to go back to square one.

This isn't to say that the seller is out the whole amount. The buyer risked whatever good faith deposit, which should be at least enough to pay the costs of carrying the property for a month or two. This isn't to say that the seller is necessarily entitled to the deposit or that escrow will automatically remit it to them. There's rules about that. But the contract is very carefully written to limit the amount of time before the seller is entitled to the buyer's deposit. If you're concerned that the buyer may flake, or not be able to qualify, the correct thing to do is negotiate more of a deposit and more favorable terms for it to come to the seller in the purchase contract. If listing agents were really trying to protect their seller clients from failed transactions, they'd be focusing in on larger deposits and trying to get them paid to the seller while the property is still in escrow. That's real protection for the seller. Of course, many buyers will walk away from such terms, meaning that it goes from a possibility of that listing agent getting paid to no possibility of that listing agent getting paid.

Buyers understand the deposit in cash terms. They scraped and saved this money in real time, dollar by dollar. It's real to them, and they don't want to risk it. You've got a better chance of getting $10,000 more on the price with most buyers than of getting a $1000 higher deposit, or more favorable terms for forfeiture. Of course, a lot of buyers choose to go unrepresented or use the listing agent to represent them. Both are silly, when you understand what's really going on. But demanding a high deposit, or harsh terms of forfeiture, is a good way of scaring off potential buyers. Savvy buyer's agents understand that an increased deposit is a way to get a better price for their buyers. If you require a high deposit and harsh terms of forfeiture, you are discouraging certain buyers, shrinking the pool of potential purchasers, thereby lowering the likely eventual price.

Of course, being able to negotiate a good contract is a major part of what an agent's getting paid for. In some circumstances, high deposit will be appropriate. For instance, if the buyers are getting a really good price. If I'm getting a property $100,000 cheaper than comparables around it, I shouldn't mind putting up a bigger deposit, or agreeing to more stringent terms for forfeiture. On the other hand, if I'm paying top dollar for the property, I'm going to be a lot more guarded. Mind you, I don't make offers without evidence that my clients can qualify for the necessary loan, but I'm going to want that seller to assume more of the risk of the transaction falling through. If they're getting a good price, they should be willing to. If they're not so willing, they're basically saying that the transaction isn't worth the increased risk. Remarks about having your cake and eating it apply to this situation. I'm certainly willing to persuade my clients to offer a better deposit to get a lower overall price. But I'm also perfectly willing to tell an overaggressive seller to go jump in the lake if they want harsh terms for the deposit without my client getting something tangible in return. The reverse of each applies when I'm listing a property. If the buyer is offering - or willing to offer - a large deposit or terms that are generous to my client, I may counsel acceptance of such an offer where I wouldn't of an identical offer with a smaller deposit or less generous terms for its forfeiture. It tells me that the buyer is willing to risk something real if they can't qualify after tying up the property.

There is another alternative, if you are or have a loan officer that you trust. Get their credit information. After all, a buyer is in a position where the sellers are in fact considering extending credit. Income, FICO, credit score, other debts. Ask your loan person if they could do a loan for this buyer. Of course, if your loan officer is a bozo, or if the buyer's is, all bets are off under this option. Under RESPA, you can't make them so much as put in an application with any loan provider not of their choosing.

If the sellers are not concerned enough about the buyers' ability to qualify to be willing to accept a lowered sales price for better terms on the deposit, I'd say it's not very important to them. If they're not willing to keep looking for another buyer, they want to do business with this one, and they must be getting something worth their risk out of the prospective transaction.

I recently had an agent tell me that requiring a pre-approval was part of their due diligence. Nonsense. I'll go so far as to say it's preposterous. The deposit is real. Information on creditworthiness is real, if subject to more interpretation. Pre-Approvals and Pre-Qualifications are a waste of space in the file, approximately equivalent in worth to an attestation that there is indeed a screen door in this submarine. There is no rational reason to choose one buyer over another, or accept one offer and refuse another, that has its roots in the pre-qualification or pre-approval. There's nothing there that you can hold anyone responsible or accountable for if the buyer does not actually get the loan funded, and if there's nothing there you can hold anyone accountable for, it's not anything real. Which makes it purely a CYA on the part of agents. Some of them may think it means something real, but it doesn't. Those agents need to be educated.

I'll admit I hate being asked for pre-approvals, even though I should probably love it as the sign of an agent that doesn't know what they're doing. But all too many times in the current market, a listing agent that doesn't know what they're doing is a sign of not being in touch with the current market, that I'm spinning my wheels in any negotiations, because the listing agent has no idea what properties like this one are actually selling for. It feels like you're trying to get useful work done on a computer that's frozen up and gone to blue screen of death. Not useful, and not helpful to either my client or theirs. You do have the option of behaving like a recalcitrant mule. Nobody can make you stop, but it's not likely to be beneficial to your bottom line.

Caveat Emptor

Buying Real Estate Below Market


This question:

What real estate office can I trust to help buy below market house in (location) California in the year 2006?

brought someone to the site and I have not previously written a real answer to the question.

The short answer is "nobody."

This doesn't have to do with trust. It has to do with the facts of life and bad assumptions.

What is the definition of market price? It is the price at which a willing buyer and a willing seller exchange a property. In other words, what you buy it for is by definition the market price.

Everybody wants to buy real estate for less than it's really worth, just like everyone wants to sell it for more than it's really worth. Mathematically speaking, at least fifty percent of each have to fail, and the fact that you're even asking the question indicates that you have made incorrect assumptions.

Real Estate is not like stocks or bonds. No matter how big or how small your transaction, it's always a one on one transaction. If you are selling, you need to find one buyer willing and able to buy that property for a price you are willing to sell. If you are buying, you need to find one property where the owner is willing to sell at a price you are willing and able to buy it at.

This is not to say that the general market is irrelevant. If someone is pricing a more desirable home lower than you, you've overpriced your property. If the identical condo next door to the one you bought sold for ten percent less, you probably overpaid. But it's not for nothing that the mantra about the three most important things in real estate being "location, location, and location." No two properties are ever identical. Think condos, even. Which would you rather have: The one right next to the parking lot, the mailboxes, and the swimming pool, or the one way in the back where you have to walk a quarter mile from your car, and further from everything else? I assure you that a goodly portion of the population would choose the one you think of as less attractive. It's the choice of the individual buyer, and a real estate agent has to learn how to get the attention of the person who's most likely to be interested in that property.

I keep telling people that getting a good price at sale time is nice for both the buyer and the seller, but the really important thing is your amount of time in the investment. Let's go back a very few years. Homes in my neighborhood were worth maybe $180,000 at the time, and condos were worth maybe $65,000. Had people going around making low ball offers on everything. Offered maybe $55,000 for the condos, $150,000 for the homes. Nobody who wasn't desperate wanted to sell, of course, and that's just what they were checking for - desperation. Had they offered something vaguely reasonable, say $60,000 for the condos or $170,000 for the home, they likely would have gotten a property. At least one group of these people ended up not buying anything. Fast forward five years. Those same condos are worth $275,000, and those same homes are selling for $500,000. If the thought of missing out on $210,000 profit for the condos because you couldn't make $217,000 bothers you, then you seem pretty rational to me. If, on the other hand, the thought of missing out on an extra $20,000 you're not going to get for the single family residence makes you want to just throw $330,000 base profit (tripling your money!) out the window, please go waste someone else's time.

There is nothing wrong with desperation sales and offers that are desperation checks, so long as you are willing and able to then proceed to something more reasonable. Nobody wants to sell to somebody looking to flip a property, but they do want to sell for a reasonable price. That's why the property is on the market. Somebody offers me (or my client) fifteen percent less than the property is worth, I usually write something like "offer rejected. Why would I want to give you fifteen percent of my investment's value?" and append a list of comparables. When It's not mine, but my client's, I legally have to submit the offer, but nothing says I have to recommend they take it. Counteroffering just wastes time when the offer isn't even in the right ballpark. The ones who can come back with a reasonable offer want the property, or they wouldn't have made the offer. The ones just looking for the desperation sale aren't going to bother.

Now some potential buyers are only interested in desperation scenarios. That's fine, but you're going to work awfully hard and put in a lot of offers before you get one, and the ones with the most potential for quick profit are going to be the ones where there is a lot of work to be done. Additionally, right now the market just won't support CondoFlippers Inc.

Yes, I believe in hard bargaining. Judging from evidence I see around me, I'm one of a small percentage who does. But I'm willing to come from a reasonable starting position, although I do love it when my clients decide they want to put an offer in on a discount agent's listing, because the client I'm acting as buyer's agent for is going to think I walk on water when the transaction is over, while the sellers are going to find out first hand the truth of the adage "You get what you pay for".

Lest you think that your negotiation discount equals your profit, it isn't. It's a small part of your profit. Let's say you get the condo for $250,000 or you won't buy it at all, even though comparables are selling for $275,000. Let's say you intend to flip for $290,000, not that that's going to happen in this market, but let's say you succeed anyway. Your net is something like $268,000, after spending $253,000 or so to buy, and you spent about $5000 making the payments on the mortgage even if it did sell right away (more likely, given the realities, that you spend the entire "profit" on the mortgage payment!)

Now let's say, instead, that the market collapses twenty percent the day after you buy, down to $220,000. If you have a sustainable mortgage and bring in a tenant, your cash flow should be even or positive. Hold on to the darned thing for five years, and at historical seven percent average per year, the property is worth $308,000. Hold it ten years and it's worth $432,000 under the same assumptions. The first number gives you as much profit as the flipper even has a theoretical chance for, while the latter blows the flipper out of the water. Even after a price collapse, and because you've been in a sustainable situation this whole time, it really isn't critical how long the prices take to come back, because you're not under the gun of a deadline. So long as you have a sustainable cash flow, the risk is essentially nonexistent. It's when you have an unsustainable cash flow that you've got to worry. Say like, an empty unit where you've got to make the mortgage payment without rent because you're trying to flip it.

In fact, given a sustainable cash flow, unless property values collapse and stay down forever, the question is closer to when you're going to cash out and how much, rather than if. Southern California Real Estate has always moved in cycles. What's down today is up forty percent five years from now. The trick is being able to bridge the gap between now and then.

If some of the above seems like I'm attacking the "bigger fool" theory of real estate, consider this: Somebody's always the last, biggest, fool in line, and until you find a buyer, that person is you. It should be part of an agent's responsibilty to do their best to see that their clients aren't the only ones without a chair when the music stops. But for all too many of them, their thinking stops at the receipt of the commission check.

Caveat Emptor.

I wouldn't have believed this one if I hadn't been there when it happened.

Another agent has a listing where the property went into default. We just happened to find out about it; the seller tried to keep it a secret because they were embarrassed. Silly, but it happens. Suddenly, the sharks started swarming, of course.

One agent brought an offer in. Among other things, that offer called the property, "a dog." It's not a dog. It's not a place where I'd expect to find a billionaire living, but if someone gave it to me, I'd have no problems either living there as it sits, or renting it out.

Never insult a property you're interested in. It's smart to explain the facts of the situation that are in your favor, but calling the property "a dog" conveys no information, is completely subjective, and is usually construed by the owner as a direct personal attack. If you want them to agree to sell you the property - which should be the reason you made an offer - it's a great way to sabotage that goal. If it's got holes in the wall or cracks in the foundation, by all means remind them. But don't get personal.

Then this clown not only sabotaged his argument, but violated his fiduciary duty, by bringing in a competing offer.

This just blows my mind. Not only is the property now obviously not a dog, since you have multiple people clamoring to buy it. How many buyers can one agent work with at a time, anyway? My absolute limit is six. If two of them want the same property, there must be something pretty darned attractive about it.

This also increases the leverage the seller has, raises the sales price for the one that gets the property, and means that one of them doesn't get the property. How can this not be in violation of fiduciary duty?

No matter how good the bargain, as a buyer's agent, I never ever initiate showing a property to someone else until the first buyer has told me they're not interested. I can't stop them from seeing the property, but I can avoid personal responsibility for encouraging someone else to make a competing offer. Especially now - it's not like there's any shortage of bargains out there. Sure, the incidence of multiple offers has risen dramatically, and properties that are priced competitively are moving (both of these are signs of a buyer's market that's about to turn, by the way). Nonetheless, there's a lot of good stuff out there if you know what's really important and how to look. A buyer's agent should know both. That knowledge is a significant fraction of what we're selling. I found four great bargains, even considering the market, one morning two weeks ago, which was the last time I got out just on a general search, not associated with any particular client. All I had to do was get off my backside and out of my office and look. I don't accept clients if I haven't got the time to look for them.

This clown was thinking about getting paid, not the client's interest. Furthermore, unless he told them, which I will bet he didn't, those two sets of clients have no way of knowing that the agent has hosed both of them. It is one heck of a bargain as it sits. Either one of them should be ecstatically happy with it and a good bet to come back on their next transaction - provided they don't know how the agent hosed them.

Now in the case of this particular property, both the MLS and the foreclosure list are public knowledge. It's not like there's any deep dark secret about it. Perhaps this agent is even selling foreclosure lists as a way to procure business, and both clients independently spotted the property and asked about it. He still owes it to the client who put in the first offer to do what he can not to sabotage them. This is the one exception I can think of to Agents Refusing to Make an Offer on Real Estate. As a buyer's agent, I have a firm policy of one outstanding offer per property (As a listing agent, I love multiple offers and do everything I can to encourage them). It's a minor encouragement for fence sitters to pull the trigger now, when I tell them that if another of my clients makes an offer, I will decline to submit an offer from someone else until that one is off the table. This protects both clients by keeping them out of a bidding war I would have facilitated. I'll find the second client something else. In this market, there's nothing so good it's worth getting into a bidding war over.

Caveat Emptor

Good Evening!
My name is DELETED and my wife and I recently signed papers to purchase a property from DELETED in DELETED, CA. After our options, their lot premium, and the elevation charge, the house is listed at 425,000. We have 90,000 in incentive money to spend which we would like to lower the overall cost of the home to 335,000. We only receive the incentive money if we get the loan through (their in-house lender). We were interested in a 30yr fixed rate mortgage that is 100% financing and will pay the closing costs out of pocket. I feel like I am being stiffed by their loan guy. Back in late May or early June, he told me that we could get 30 yr 100% financing with HOA, Mello Roos, PMI, PITI out the door for $2889 on some 6.75 percent loan (which still seemed high to me) but just last week he told us that we are now looking at 7.8% with out the door payment of $3250 because 100% loans are harder to finance now. I guess my question is how do I not get stiffed by their loan agent and what proper steps do I take to ensure the best loan and rate for us? I think that 7.8% is ridiculously high for this market! Here is some background info on us:

Credit scores of 750-780 for both of us
21,000 in bank accounts
2 car loans with 3 yrs remaining on each (238 and 210 per month)
Current renters with 80k gross yearly combined salary
1st time homebuyers

Any help regarding this matter would be greatly appreciated! Thank you for your time and consideration. If there is any other information you need us to provide I would be more than happy to provide it.

First off, check with your local authority to see if you qualify for a Mortgage Credit Certificate. It looks likely. Whether or not the developer's lender participates is a question, but it's a question that needs answering.

Now this is definitely a situation where you needed a buyer's agent to deal with a developer. Unfortunately, at this point it's too late to get one involved, and kind of pointless, as you've already signed the contract. The work a buyer's agent does is pretty much moot. You've already signed that developer's contract. I'll bet a nickel they'll be able to keep your deposit if you back out, and likely sue for more. They are now in a win-win situation.

Here locally, I could tell you if it was a good idea to pay that developer's extra charges or just take their basic unit. Elevation premium? What's the view now, and is it likely to stay that way? Lot premium? How many extra square feet are you getting - or is it just a junk fee? You're not local to me, so I do not know.

What I can assess is numbers. Just picking a rate sheet at random (it will have changed by the time you see this), right now I've got an 80% first with zero points and no pre-payment penalty at 6.75%. On $268,000, that's $1738. The 30 due in 15 second would be at 7.75%, with a negligible cost, for a payment of $480. Assuming that your official purchase price is $425,000, add about another $443 for California property taxes and just a guess of $100 for homeowner's insurance, and that's a payment of $2761 plus Mello-Roos and HOA, which I have no way of knowing. Never choose loans by payment, but it cuts your cost of interest more than it cuts your payment.

However, at $425,000, you've got a first of $340,000 and a second of $85,000, giving us payments of $2205 and $609, respectively, and that's what we'd be looking at if you came to me for the loan right now. Add that $543 taxes and insurance, and your payments would be $3357. Not having that $90,000 in your balance makes a huge difference, and not just to the payment, but also to the cost of interest.

Here's another point on which developers hose unsuspecting buyers. Is that property, as it sits, going to be worth $425,000? Is it going to worth $335,000? If I were in your shoes, I'd hire an appraiser right now. here's one easy place to find an appraiser in California. That approximately $400 they'll cost is looking like a really cheap insurance policy, right about now. And you do want an independent opinion. The chances of that developer's appraiser rocking their boat are nil.

Here's one thing to seriously consider: Take their financing offer, even if it includes a pre-payment penalty, which I'm betting it will. Of course, if they offer you the option of buying it off with a higher rate, that's something you're going to want to do in this scenario. Then, providing the property is really going to be worth enough, refinance immediately. That pre-payment penalty isn't going to be $90,000, even with the costs of the new loan included. But you want an independent appraiser's opinion before you jump into this, to find out if it's likely you'll be able to refinance. What you're essentially doing is taking the $90,000 incentive money and then paying a toll of about $13,000 for the pre-payment penalty plus whatever the costs of the new loan are (the ones I outlined would be roughly $3000 if you accepted a 3 year penalty of $500 on the second, or $500 higher if you didn't). Net to you: roughly $73,000 - if the value of the property will cover the refinance, and you'll get better terms if the value is actually $425,000, because the Loan to Value Ratio won't be 100%. It'll be about 83%, which translates to an 80/5. Provided, of course, that the purchase contract says $425,000. If your official purchase price is $335,000, your monthly property taxes will be about $349, but then we're dealing with whether or not the lender will believe your appraisal. A paper lenders quite likely won't. Most of the time, your official sales price will be the full amount, but every once in a while developers like to throw a curve in. On one hand, a lower sales price reduces your property taxes, while on the other it means that you'll have difficulty refinancing for a while.

If you had a good buyer's agent, you'd likely already know the answers to all of these questions, and you likely wouldn't have fallen into a couple of traps, but that's water under the bridge. We have to deal with the situation as it exists, and figure out the best way to deal with the facts looking forward. If an appraiser tells you the value is there, I'd take their loan on a short term basis for the incentive money. If the appraiser tells you the value is not there, it's probably time to see a good lawyer about getting out of that contract. If you lose your deposit, that's usually not as bad as spending more than the property is worth and getting stuck with a rotten loan you can't refinance out of.

Caveat Emptor

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