X-Pert Knowledge: April 2007 Archives

An email:





Greetings,

I've recently been pitched the idea of refinancing my home and investing in apartments, or more precise, a four-plex. The idea is to refinance and get a negative amortization loan on my house. With the money I pull out of my home, put a down payment on a four-plex, also with a negative amortization loan. That way, I am told, my payments would stay relatively the same on my home and I can have a positive cash flow from the four-plex. Along with the pitch I am told that I can refinance after five years and get another plan, or sell outright, the apartments. Their belief is that in five years, the apartments and my home would have gone up enough to offset the interest that I will not be paying in a negative loan.



I've read, on this site and elsewhere, that negative loans are not the way to go for most people. I'd like some more input as to what to do in my situation.



Here are the specifics in my case:

Home --- owe - 200k

worth - 600k

would get around 200-215 from refi

Apartments --- worth about 900k

downpayment would be 20%, or 180k

keep the money left over from refi in savings for emergencies



loans for both properties is a five year fixed rate of 7%

paying only 4.25% of it, with the rest being added to debt



Is it too good to be true?



Now I know how Hercules must have felt fighting the Hydra.



This situation can be called many things, but "Too Good To Be True" is not among them. It not only isn't true, it isn't good.



Let's go over what's going on in the situation as proposed.



You would have a loan on your home for about $420,000, including closing costs. This is just over the conforming limit of $417,000, but negative amortization loans are not A paper and pay no attention to the conforming loan limit. A real principal and interest payment on that loan is $2794.28, of which you are paying $2066.15. Over the course of three years, your loan balance would increase to about $435,327.16, at which point that $15,200 and climbing pre-payment penalty is no longer hanging over your head. After 5 years, you owe $447,480. Total of payments to that point: $123,969.00.



On the apartment building, you would have a $720,000 loan at 7%. The real payment on that is $4790.19, of which you would be paying $3541.98. After three years, you would owe $746,275, at which point that pre-payment penalty of $26,100 (to start, and climbing) is no longer over your head. After your planned five years, you owe $767,109. Total of payments is $212,518.80.



Now, I'm going to compare and contrast with two other loans I really do have as I'm typing this, but will be out of date by the time anyone reads it. I should mention that I have difficulty believing that the investment property, especially, would not be at a higher rate than you have been quoted. I don't believe that these are zero points loans, but I'll even assume that they are, in order to have a fair compare and contrast. I know for a fact that this isn't even the best I can do, but I'm just picking the first rate sheet that comes to hand. This is with all costs included: loans I could lock and write a loan quote guarantee on. A 30 year fixed on $417,000 (maximum conforming) at 6.25%, and I can even give you about $750 to help cover your closing costs, but let's say net total cost to you is $3000, and therefore your net is $214,000 when all is said and done. The payment on this is $2567.54. There is no prepayment penalty on this loan. After 5 years, you owe $389,216.30 and your payments totalled $154,052.44.



The loan on the apartment building would be bumped all the way to 7.375% because it's non-conforming, and so that the yield spread covers the adjustments for investment property and 4 units. Every lender has these charges, and these are on the mild side. So you see why I do not believe the real rate on the investment property loan would end up being 7% without they charge you some pretty stiff figure in points. I'm not sure your real rate can be bought as low as 7% on such an Option ARM. This lender does both A and Alt A, and their adjustments on the Option Arm are a half point more expensive, which means even the highest rate on their sheet only buys your net retail points to one, but let's run with our assumptions as stated. Payment is $4972.87, after 5 years you will owe $680,400 and your total of payments will be $298,371.66.



Let's look at the end of those five years.







HOME

Balance

Total paid

Net

Neg Am

447,480

123,969

571,439
30 fixed

389,216

154,052

543,268
difference

-58,264

+30,083

-28,171






So you see that every dollar you saved on cash flow cost you two dollars in real terms. Lenders love this kind of math! Nor am I certain that this is really a fair comparison between the loans, but it's what I have to work with.



Now, lets do the apartments. As I said, I am as certain as I can possibly be that this is not a true and fair comparison between loans. I'm restricting myself to "no points" loans, and if that lender told you there were going to be no points on an option arm at 7% on a 4 unit investment property, I'd call him a liar to his face.







Apartments

balance

payments

total
Neg Am

767,109

212,518

979,627
30 fixed

680,400

298,372

978,772
difference

-86,709

+85,854

-855




So you see that, even giving this person every possible benefit of the doubt, you come out better on the thirty year fixed, even though I don't believe their loan really exists.



Now I'm have not, thus far, allowed for the possibility that you wouldn't qualify for both loans, (with all the lovely potential for gain on the apartments) with both sets of fully amortized payments. There is a pretty serious monthly income zone ($3800 wide) where you would qualify for negative amortization but not fully amortized, at least "full documentation." It is to be noted, however, that these loans can be done independently of one another, dropping the monthly income range gap where you qualify for at least one full documentation to just over $800. I am intentionally ignoring the possibility of "stated income" loans because stated income is a very dangerous game to play in these circumstances (or anything similar). Also keep in mind, however, that property values don't have to go up in five years. It's a pretty reasonable bet, especially right now, but I don't think we're going to see more than 5% annualized for a while.



People sell Negative Amortization loans based upon cash flow, not based upon how wonderful they are to your bottom line. When you consider them on anything other than a short term cash flow basis, their virtues become non-existent. They are popular because they are easy to sell to most people. Most folks think of cost in terms of the check they are writing every month, and that's just not all there is to it. There are also deferred costs - costs that have the potential to step out and grab you with a bill, in this case for another $85,000 that most people won't realize they owe. This is 2003 thinking in a 2007 world: "The equity increase will more than pay the difference." Except that it isn't necessarily so.



It's much easier to persuade people to give the bank tens of thousands of dollars in equity that they might have someday, than it is to persuade them to write a larger check or endure negative cash flow in the first place. Persuading them to write the larger checks remains the correct thing to do in 99% plus of all cases. You can't fault loan officers and real estate agents as sales folk for making the easy sale - but you can fault them to the extent they represent themselves as analysts, consultants, or advisers, and I just don't see a whole lot of people in either of my professions representing themselves as straightforward sales persons. I've got a property one of my clients is in escrow on with about eighty business cards on the kitchen counter - and mine is one of about three cards on that counter with anything like a sales representation ("Loan Officer and Agent"). Some say things like "Real Estate Consultant", while others say things like "Relocation Specialist" or "Financial Vice President". It's all very deliberate to convince people to drop their defenses, because "I'm not a salesperson," but if you are going to represent yourself that way, you have a responsibility to comport yourself in accordance with that representation - and all the evidence I'm seeing says that this is not the case. I would like to see some civil cases make their way through the courts which fault agents and loan officers on the basis of their self-representation as something other than sales folk.



Actually, let me take that back. If they're acting as your real estate agent, they do have a fiduciary duty to you no matter what they're representing themselves as. Loan Officers do not - which is one of the reason the loan side is so messed up - but Real Estate Agents do, and if they're also doing the loan, they have a responsibility to advise you that this appears to be beyond your means, and exactly what risks you may be taking with this purchase - something I'm seeing more evidence in contradiction of than in support of.



Negative amortization loans can serve a valid purpose as refinances in certain limited circumstances. They can help people avoid worse consequences than necessary, when the numbers are right for it. But as purchase money loans, they are like playing Russian Roulette with your financial future. Sure, the market might take off like it did a few years ago - but it also might sit stagnant for the next several years, or even decline a little. Even if it goes up, it may not go up enough to pay the extra money you now owe. Of all the scenarios listed, the market taking off at 10% plus gains per year is the least likely, in my opinion, at least for the foreseeable future.



Caveat Emptor

Every so often I'll say something about misplaced improvements. You may be wondering what a misplaced improvement is.



Simply put, it's something that stands out above the surrounding properties so far that they pull it down. Like having a mansion in a neighborhood of shanties. Yes, it's still a gorgeous house and yes, the functionality is exactly the same, but as soon as your walk out the front door you feel like you're in a third world country.



Repeat after me: Real Estate is only worth whatever I can get someone to pay for it. Real Estate is only worth whatever I can get someone to pay for it. One more time, with feeling: Real Estate is only worth whatever I can get someone to pay for it.



Got that? Good. Now ask yourself, would you be willing to pay more for a beautiful mansion surrounded by other beautiful mansions, or would you be willing to pay more for a beautiful mansion surrounded by cardboard boxes? The vast majority of the people out there want to look out of their beautiful mansion and see other beautiful mansions. I understand that even in the areas of the world where most folks live in shanties, the mansions of the wealthy are clustered together.



Probably the most egregious example of a misplaced improvement I've ever seen was this turkey. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, a Realtor really is making fun of a property. Beautiful brand new 2000 square foot home - actually an entire development of about 30 of them - less than a quarter mile off the departure end of the main use runway at a busy general aviation airport. That airport is open 24 hours per day, 365 days per year, and it has to by the terms of the land grant. I love small planes, and I couldn't have lived there. Plus you have to drive through a white trash neighborhood to get there, and there's a freeway being built that will come within about 75 yards. I have zero idea how the developer sold most of them. There shouldn't have been a housing development there at all. If they had to put something in, they should have run a road in off the other side and put in an industrial park or something, but I know of at least two crashes in the field where this development used to be. A travel trailer hook up would have been a misplaced improvement.



Now misplaced improvements aren't always that much of a waste. Matter of fact, if a buyer isn't looking at a property for its investment value, but rather for something like housing five or six kids as cheaply as practical, they can be a good way to find a property that meets your needs less expensively than comparable properties. Why? Because everything around it drags it down, where most like properties are surrounded by other properties of comparable features. You never want to buy the best house on the block if investment is your criterion - but you might want to if you're just trying to find housing for a family of seven and you don't make two million dollars per year.



For instance, about six months ago I found a gorgeous 5 bedroom 3 bathroom property in a sixty year old business route neighborhood, surrounded by trailer parks and older offices and apartments. Some nincompoop had wasted at least $60,000 fixing it up to look like some big executive's entertainment house - but the chance of some big executive buying the property was nil. Across the street was an old office building with chunks out of the stairs, the neighbors all look lower middle class, and there's a trailer park entrance at the end of the block. So I can guarantee that the target market wasn't interested, which is too bad, because it really was a nice place. The guy was asking $80,000 above what I thought the market might actually support, and he eventually lost the property because he couldn't afford the payments on a vacant property and nobody was willing to pay what he wanted. But if he had asked what the neighborhood would support, it would have sold quick to some working family who needed somewhere for their kids to sleep. But the brand new kitchen and travertine floors were just wasted money on the owner's part. Before you improve a property, if selling for a profit is your intention, always look around at the rest of your neighborhood to see if there's anybody else with that level of improvements. If not, you're wasting your money. Don't waste your money, because I guarantee you that potential buyers are going to look around before they make an offer.



Some misplaced improvements aren't as extreme. Just a couple of weeks ago, I found a beautiful property for a couple of my clients that was nonetheless a misplaced improvement. This was beautifully refurbished 3 bedroom 1.75 bathroom home in a neighborhood where those go for $450-460 thousand. The ask was a little over 550, and let me tell you, it was gorgeous. It might have been the nicest kitchen I'd ever seen in a property of that price range, the public areas were beautiful and open, and had a nice mountain view. The bathrooms were new and extremely attractive, not to mention a downright cozy place to take baths, and the bedrooms were great, too. Everything was just wonderfully laid out, and it even had an atrium that lit up the middle of the house. The owners did everything right except one: They didn't consider the neighborhood, which really was a pretty good neighborhood, but houses in this configuration and with this square footage just weren't selling for anything like 550. I consulted an appraiser, who said that if everything was as I described, they might have been able to justify as much as 510 on the appraisal. My clients were looking for a nice place to live and entertain for the rest of their lives, and they had a down payment, so the fact that it wouldn't appraise for 100% of purchase price was not an insurmountable obstacle, like it would be to someone without much of a down payment - which is to say 90% of everyone out there looking. Furthermore, it had sat vacant for seven months with no action (typical for misplaced improvements). We put an offer in, trying to jaw it down to something not too hugely above the neighborhood, and despite all of the evidence I cited, the owners blew us off. I understand that nobody likes to take a loss, but it's not the buyer's problem if you do, just like it's none of their concern how much you might be making. Residential properties are only worth what they are worth, and whereas this one didn't have many of the usual mandatory deductions, there really is no way to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. The neighborhood is the neighborhood, and this one wasn't Rancho Santa Fe.



Misplaced improvements can be frustrating as anything to sell. Even if you do get an offer for $550,000, when the appraisal comes in at $490,000, that's all the lender will loan on. In fact, the vast majority of lenders won't fund if the total encumbrances are more than the appraisal, so even if you are in a position to offer a seller carryback for part of the price, it's just not going to work unless the down payment is at least equal to the difference between the appraisal and purchase price. How many people do you think want to put down $60,000 of their own money just so they can go through the hassle of obtaining 100% financing, breaking the loan into a first and a second or paying PMI? How many people are even going to have $60,000 to put down if they wanted to? Vanishingly few right now. What happens to most accepted offers is they waste 30 to 60 days in "pending," and then they fall out of escrow and you are back to square one. It's just a cold hard fact that if the proposed down payment won't at least cover the difference, you almost certainly don't have a transaction.



The way appraisers find comps is not by going out five, ten, or fifteen miles to find the comparable properties. Comps almost always have to be within one mile, and lenders prefer with half a mile. Further out, the appraiser is going to have to justify picking those properties as opposed to closer ones. The character of the neighborhood has to be very similar as well as the characteristics of the properties.



Often, in the case of misplaced improvements, someone suggests appraisal fraud. By some strange coincidence, this is almost always the owner, the listing agent, or both. Find an accommodating appraiser. Except that appraisal fraud is, well, fraud. Not to mention a violation of fiduciary duty, unless the buyer is stupid enough to choose to be unrepresented, and even there a good case can be made in law that this nasty seller and their agent took advantage of this poor ignorant buyer. No. Thank. You. There are reasons why there are limits to the lengths good agents will go to to make a transaction happen, and this is one of those cases where those limits are short, sharp, and crystal clear.



So we have seem that misplaced improvements are a disaster for the seller, while being a limited opportunity for a certain class of buyer, but they are tough transactions to make happen for a listing agent, and there is no glory in them. The seller is not going to be happy with the sales price, and it's almost certainly going to take longer than everything else around it to sell. I'm brutally frank with owners of misplaced improvements, because if they don't want to listen to what I tell them, they're not going to price the property appropriately or negotiate in the proper frame of mind, both of which are elements of a failed listing. Failed listings don't do anything good for anyone, and I prefer not to be a part of them. I'm not going to get paid, and everybody's going to end up angry at everyone else, which means it's likely to cost me some future clients also. I'd rather walk away before it gets started.



Caveat Emptor


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This page is a archive of entries in the X-Pert Knowledge category from April 2007.

X-Pert Knowledge: June 2007 is the next archive.

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