Beginner's Information: June 2007 Archives

One of the most useless and overworked items in the real estate industry today is the pre-qualification for a loan. Sellers want buyers to be "pre-qualified", and buyers are seeking "pre-qualification" to convince buyers they are serious.



The level of work done for a pre-qualification varies. In some rare instances, the loan officer doing the work not only runs the credit, but verifies the income as consisting of the proper income documentation paperwork (w-2s and/or taxes, plus pay stubs and/or testimonial letter) for the loan, and determines how much of a payment you can qualify for based upon known income and known indebtedness, and actually includes the assumed property tax due to purchase price in the payment calculations, and gives you an answer in how much you can qualify for based upon current rates at the time. This is a fair amount of work, consuming hours of time. A loan officer at a direct lender who goes through this whole procedure might be done in two or three hours. A loan officer working for a broker can actually take a full day, or even two, making calls to various lenders and shopping the loan around after the primary calculations are done. On real transactions, I've gone over two days on multiple occasions, trying to find a better loan.



The pitfalls and caveats are many. If the loan officer doesn't run your credit, which costs money, they really have no idea what your credit is like. If they don't verify your income, they are making a giant assumption that what you told them is accurate for purposes of a real estate loan (you get to use gross pay, but there are a multitude of potential adjustments). The payment you qualify for when you actually go to buy a house and get a real loan is a so-called PITI payment, which stands for principal, interest, taxes and insurance. Insurance is always an educated guess, unless and until you have a quote from a prospective insurer on a particular property for an adequate amount of coverage. Taxes here in California will be initially based upon sales price, and unless you live within one of the high property tax areas, is pretty much a set rate for the whole state, but there are many special assessment districts, scattered all over the state. I've seen properties with as many as four of these, although many if not most properties have none. It's much harder in some other states to even come up with a meaningful rule of thumb figure. All of these factors throw the taxes figure off.



Principal and interest - the actual loan payment - is what's left over from your allowed payment. From this, you can compute a principal loan amount based upon known interest rates.



Here's where the games really start. The first question is "What type of loan are they basing it on?" The thirty year fixed rate loan always has the highest rate, which means that if they assume a thirty year fixed rate loan, they are going to be able to "pre-qualify" you for less than somebody else can. What's the lowest rate, and hence the highest prequalification amount? A month-to-month variable or even a negative amortization loan. Somebody assuming they are going to qualify you for a negative amortization loan is going to "pre-qualify" you for the largest loan - more than you can really afford. Which is more attractive to a client who doesn't know any better? That's right, the negative amortization loan. Which loan causes someone who is educated in mortgages want to drag the loan officer into the sunlight and stake them through the heart? That's right, the negative amortization loan. Amazing coincidence? Not really. From personal experience, many people do not want to become educated, even to the level of a competent layperson, and they will get taken for a ride as a consequence. What they want is to look at houses, pick out one they like, sign a couple sheets of paper, and move in. What these people are likely to get is a disaster. Many people in my industry make a very high class living ripping off people like this while setting them up with a gotcha that's going to bite, and bite hard, but not until after they've got their commissions and depart the scene. "How many houses are they going to buy from me, anyway?" is the typical thinking.



One more concern is the fact that while sub-prime loan rates are higher, and in most cases they will have a pre-payment penalty, where A paper loan rates are lower and in most cases do not have a pre-payment penalty. However, the highest payment A paper loans will allow is less than the highest payment sub-prime loans will allow. So the loan officer can typically qualify you for a bigger loan based upon a sub-prime loan. See my article on "Mortgage Markets and Providers" for more information.



Additionally, the rates on loans change every day. If the rates changes, so does the amount you qualify for with the same payment. It takes only a calculator to show that even an honest and complete "pre-qualification" done on a rate that's valid today may or may not be accurate by the time you actually find a home that you wish to purchase.



Another game loan officers play is with the rate versus cost and points tradeoff. It is counter-intuitive but true that it is actually easier to qualify someone for a lower rate. If you qualify for a given loan program at 5.5 percent, you will qualify for the same program at 5.25 percent, but you might not qualify at 5.75 percent. The reason is that the payment is (or should be) lower if the rate is lower, and payment is what qualification is based upon. The cost to you is that most people refinance or sell before they have recovered the additional costs of these lower rate loans. (See my essay on Mortgage Rate and Points for details and sample computations.) So they're going choose a loan that sticks you with multiple points - costs you're not likely to recover - all in the name of qualifying you for a larger dollar amount.



THERE IS NO WIDELY-ACCEPTED STANDARD FOR "PRE-QUALIFICATION." Let me say that again. There is no widely accepted standard for prequalification. One more time: There is no widely accepted standard for prequalification. Consequently, everywhere in the nation, but particularly in California and other high cost areas, the pressures on providers to "pre-qualify" you for inflated numbers is intense. If you don't qualify for enough to buy any home, they obviously don't have a transaction. If they pre-qualify you for less than someone else, most people are more likely to go to that somewhere else, and the loan officer doesn't have a transaction. The competition is qualifying them based upon month-to-month variable loans or even negative amortization, and so if they don't as well, they don't have a transaction. Few people qualify clients based upon how things really are, and the easy transactions where everything fits and the people qualify based upon traditional measures are mostly long gone. If the agent and loan officer doesn't have a transaction, they don't make any money. If they don't make any money, they don't stay in business, they can't make the payments on the Porsche, their house gets repossessed, their wife has to sell her jewelry to keep them off the streets, etcetera. It's not a pretty picture for them, and it often leads to them putting clients into situations they cannot really afford. Finally, of course, the size of commissions is based upon the size of the transaction, so if they "pre-qualify" you for more, they have the prospect of making more when you buy the bigger house that you cannot really afford.



This doesn't even go into the issues of a stated income loan. (See Levels of Mortgage Documentation). This is where you cannot prove income according to industry standards via taxes, w-2s, pay stubs, or perhaps bank statements for sub-prime loans, so you state your income and in return for a higher interest rate, the bank agrees not to verify the actual income level. Please note that it's still got to make sense for someone in your profession. For example, if you are a school teacher they are not going to believe you $250,000 per year. But people do make up numbers much larger than the real amount they make. It is not for nothing that stated income is often called a "liar's loan". That is fine and good, as long as you actually can make the payment. When you can't it becomes a real issue. Not necessarily for the loan officer, who's going to get their money and depart the scene, and as long as you make the first payment or two they're off the hook. No. The one who's going to have to deal with the mess is you, the client. Keep in mind that as soon as the loan is funded, that loan officer is out of the picture whether you went through a direct lender or not, and they know it. That real estate agent is also out of the picture as soon as you have your house, and they know it. You've got to live with the situation they created, and they kind of know it, but often it just isn't important to them, and certainly not as important as seeing that they get paid, and paid as much as practical. So watch out, and shop around. The person who "pre-qualifies" you for the lowest amount may be the one you should do business with, because they are using assumptions you can actually live with. Go over their numbers with a calculator in hand.



The stated income loan leads into our next issue, which is that few people will expend the necessary effort to do a "pre-qualification" correctly. It takes several hours to do an accurate "pre-qualification" correctly, but a Wildly Assumptive Guess takes just a few minutes. You may imagine which is done more often. This especially applies if the agent does not run credit or does not get income documentation. Due to the availability of the stated income loan in the current market, they really don't have a need to be accurate, and due to pressures to come up with high numbers, their assumptions are going to range from pretty optimistic to wildly optimistic. This is wonderful if you just want to be able to say you were a homeowner for a few months while the bank forecloses on you. It's not so great if you're trying to get into a survivable financial situation.



You may get the idea that when it comes right down to it, most "pre-qualifications" are convenient fiction, worth an approximately equal size of toilet paper, if not quite so soft on certain portions of your anatomy. You'd be correct. So "Why are they so ubiquitous?" becomes the obvious question.



The answer is sellers and seller's agents. Sellers are going to go through a significant amount of trouble and expense going through the motions of selling their homes. Furthermore, they can only have one proposed sale in process at a time and they may have a deadline. They understandably want some kind of reassurance that this buyer can actually qualify for the loan. For their part, seller's agents can be some of the laziest people I've ever met when you come right down to it. They've paid the money for the advertising that draws people or joining the big well-known National Brokerage With Television Advertising! Once they get the signature on a listing agreement, many think they're entitled to sit around with thumb you-know-where and wait for the commission to roll in. They don't want to go over the buyer's pre-qualification with the seller, and some of them have no idea as to how to do it. But they certainly don't want to carry out their part for more than one proposed transaction, hence their desire for this Magical thing called the "pre-qualification."



The correct way to respond to this concern, for a seller, is simple and yet many people think it's hard-nosed. Require a deposit. Require it be remitted to you on the last day of escrow as part of the initial contract, whether or not the loan funds. Now the standard form in California, as a default, makes the sale conditional upon the loan for seventeen days, but this can be changed by specific negotiation. True, you might scare away some buyers who aren't certain that they're qualified, and in buyer's markets this may scare them away entirely. But you won't enter into escrow with anyone who's unsure. You shouldn't rely on a "pre-qualification", which is basically just a piece of paper that's now been filled up with meaningless markings and so can't be used again.



Furthermore, many buyer's agents, knowing how useless a "pre-qualification" is, don't want to take the time to do them themselves and so tell their clients to go get one somewhere else, but that when the time comes they have someone who will do the actual loan. It didn't take very long for the word on this practice to get out, and so loan officers and agents with a very short time in the business learn not to do them unless they are going to get something out of it. Which basically means control of the transaction or an upfront payment. I certainly can't name anybody with more than a few months in the business who will do a "pre-qualification" unless a client either signs a Buyer's Agent Agreement or pays them a fee or does something that assures them they will get a transaction. And if your agent says go get a "pre-qualification" on your own, go and get another agent. If they or the loan agent they recommend can't be bothered, then obviously they are too busy to give you the necessary attention to get your transaction done properly and on time. It's very hard to fight the system that requires a "pre-qualification," no matter how useless it is, but it's part of the work they signed on for. They should do it themselves. If they try to get someone else do do their work, consider it a Red Flag not to do business with them, because they're already trying to skate by without doing work that they should be doing. Being a good agent or loan officer is work, and that's what we get paid for. Somebody who's trying to do less work now is likely to try and skate by without doing important work later.



Caveat Emptor






The short answer is "Because it costs less"



There is always a trade-off between rate and cost on a given loan type. If you want the thirty year fixed rate loan half a percent lower than everybody else is getting, you're going to pay for it in the form of discount points. The higher cost always goes with the lower rate. You might as well consider it a law of nature in the same league as gravity, because it is a law of economics. If you don't want to pay high costs, you end up with a higher rate. End of story. There are all kinds of games that can be played with loan quotes, but the fact of the matter is that of the tens of thousands of rate sheets I've seen from over two hundred different lenders from A paper all the way down to hard money, every single one of them conforms to this fundamental truth. A 6.00 percent loan will cost more from the same lender at the same time than a 6.50 percent loan of the same type. Some lenders have different trade-offs than others because they are aiming at different target markets. I could tell you about lenders that rarely have a rate below par on their sheet, and lenders that rarely have a rate above par, par being the point at which there are no discount points to get the rate, but no yield spread either. Some lender's par may be lower than others, or higher. The par on a completely different loan type, or loan program, will be different. Par varies with time, the qualifications of the borrower, the type of loan they desire, the type of documentation they are providing, and other concerns as well.



The cost of a loan is sunk. Once you have the loan, the money you spend to get it is gone, whether you paid it out of pocket or rolled it into your balance. If you sell or refinance before you have recovered it via lower interest costs, you don't get it back. Actually, if you roll it into your balance, the money isn't gone, because you still owe it and you're paying interest on it. If you sell, it will mean you get less money, and if you refinance again, your balance will still be higher. Paying it out of your pocket is no better, because you could be investing that money, likely at a higher rate of return than the rate on most loans.



Now here's a very old rate sheet I saved from a random lender. The rates are much higher now. All of the lock periods are thirty days. I'm going to presume a $400,000 total loan, as if you're doing a cash out refinance to a specific loan to value ratio, but the principles are the same no matter the loan size.







Rate

5.25

5.375

5.5

5.625

5.75

5.875

6

6.125

6.25

6.375

6.5

6.625

6.75

6.875

7

discount

3.898

3.221

2.6

2.01

1.452

0.963

0.615

0.252

-0.063

-0.381

-0.661

-1.039

-1.27

-1.511

-1.577

pts $

$15,592.00

$12,884.00

$10,400.00

$8,040.00

$5,808.00

$3,852.00

$2,460.00

$1,008.00

-$252.00

-$1,524.00

-$2,644.00

-$4,156.00

-$5,080.00

-$6,044.00

-$6,308.00

total cost

$19,092.00

$16,384.00

$13,900.00

$11,540.00

$9,308.00

$7,352.00

$5,960.00

$4,508.00

$3,248.00

$1,976.00

$856.00

$0.00

$0.00

$0.00

$0.00

net $

$380,908.00

$383,616.00

$386,100.00

$388,460.00

$390,692.00

$392,648.00

$394,040.00

$395,492.00

$396,752.00

$398,024.00

$399,144.00

$400,000.00

$400,000.00

$400,000.00

$400,000.00





Alternatively, If you owe $400,000 and roll the costs into the balance, it becomes the following. Actually, the costs are mostly higher because points are computed based upon final loan amount, while I was too lazy to recompute from the previous example. Also, the maximum conforming loan is $417,000 currently, so going over that would cause the rates to rise notably, but assuming you have a 7% interest rate now, this is how quickly you would recover the costs of the new loan:







Rate

5.25

5.375

5.5

5.625

5.75

5.875

6

6.125

6.25

6.375

6.5

6.625

6.75

6.875

7

total cost

$19,092.00

$16,384.00

$13,900.00

$11,540.00

$9,308.00

$7,352.00

$5,960.00

$4,508.00

$3,248.00

$1,976.00

$856.00

$0.00

$0.00

$0.00

$0.00

loan

$419,092.00*

$416,384.00

$413,900.00

$411,540.00

$409,308.00

$407,352.00

$405,960.00

$404,508.00

$403,248.00

$401,976.00

$400,856.00

$400,000.00

$400,000.00

$400,000.00

$400,000.00

int/month

$1,833.53

$1,865.05

$1,897.04

$1,929.09

$1,961.27

$1,994.33

$2,029.80

$2,064.68

$2,100.25

$2,135.50

$2,171.30

$2,208.33

$2,250.00

$2,291.67

$2,333.33

save/month

$374.81

$343.28

$311.29

$279.24

$247.07

$214.01

$178.53

$143.66

$108.08

$72.84

$37.03

$0.00

$0.00

$0.00

$0.00

breakeven

50.94

47.73

44.65

41.33

37.67

34.35

33.38

31.38

30.05

27.13

23.12

0.00

0.00

0.00

0.00



*over $417,000 kicks into non-conforming loan territory



People shop loans by payment. They shouldn't, but they do. Furthermore, a lot of people seem to get quite a stroke out of bragging that they have a low interest rate. But if you add $19,000 to your balance and only keep the loan long enough to recover $15,000 in interest, you've gotten a negative 20% return on your money - not including the time value of money. Furthermore, this money usually equates to the fact that you're going to have a higher balance and end up paying more money and higher interest on your next loan.



Now, it may be counter-intuitive, but it is easier to qualify for a loan with a lower rate, because the payments are lower, and therefore the Debt to income ratio is better. So any time somebody tells you that you didn't qualify for the same loan at a lower rate, you know it's nonsense. If you qualify for the program at all, you qualify most easily with a lower payment. This begs the question of whether you qualify for the program at all - your credit score could be too low, or it might not allow a loan to value ratio or debt to income ratio or any of many other situations you find yourself in, but if you qualify for the program, you will qualify at the lower rate. It may be smarter to want the higher rate, but that can be effectively eliminated by debt to income ratio.



So that's why low and zero cost loans are not popular. Most people focus in on either payment or interest rate, and when they discover that the low or zero cost loan means a higher interest rate, they're not interest. But if you don't keep the loan long enough to recover the additional costs, you're wasting money. Only a true zero cost loan can have you ahead immediately, but advertising or selling zero cost loans is like King Canute trying to command the tide to turn. Most people aren't interested.



There are other considerations. I've been telling people interest rates are going to rise for quite some time, and so rates gotten now are not going likely to be equalled for quite a while. This has now become quite apparent, for instance, if you've been pricing loans lately as opposed to when this rate sheet was valid a few months ago. If you're not intending to sell any time soon, it's likely to be a good idea to pay part of a point or even a full one, as you're likely to be keeping the loan longer, and the median time between refinancing is likely to rise. Nonetheless, there are limits on the size of any bet you want to make, and when you pay costs up front for a loan rate, you are betting that you're going to keep it long enough to more than recover those costs. For quite a few years now, the lenders have been winning the vast majority of those bets.



Caveat Emptor

One of the things that most mortgage and real estate consumers get mixed up on is the distinction between low-balling and junk fees. Junk fees are when they add fees that really aren't necessary to what you're paying. Low-balling is when there's an essential cost (or the associated rate) that either gets underestimated or they somehow neglect to tell you about. This can also take the form of costs such as subescrow fees which happen because your representatives did not choose your service providers with your best interests in mind.



As I said in Mortgage Closing Costs: What is Real and What is Junk?, "The easy, general rule is that legitimate expenses all have easily understood explanations in plain English, they are all for specific services, and if they are performed by third parties, there are associated invoices or receipts that you can see." In my experience, the vast majority of what extra fees that appear on the HUD 1 despite not being on the earlier forms such as the federal Good Faith Estimate, California's Mortgage Loan Disclosure Statement, or a real estate agent's estimate of seller's proceeds, are not the result of junk fees being added for no good reason, but are the result of real fees that your agent or loan provider knew were going to need to get paid, should have known the amount, and chose not to tell you about them or chose to tell you they would be less than they are. In short, low-balling is a much worse problem in the industry than junk fees. I've had people tell me my closing costs seemed high, because despite the fact that I have negotiated for discounts from providers, other loan providers were quoting significantly lower costs. What's going on is not that my costs are high - in fact they're pretty darned low when you compare the fees my clients actually end up paying - but the fact that a large proportion of my competitors will pretend that a large percentage of those costs aren't going to happen. The penalties for this, in case you weren't aware, are pretty much non-existent.



The reason they do is is to make it appear for the moment as if their loan is more competitive than it is. What happens is that because it appears that their loan is cheaper for the same rate, people will sign up for their loan. They then invest the three to four weeks necessary to fund that loan working with that loan provider. By the time they discover the real costs and the rate of that other loan are going to be much higher than they were initially quoted, there's no time to go back and get another loan - and that's if the people notice, and industry statistics say that over half of the people do not realize even massive discrepancies between the initial quote and eventual loan delivered.



This is why most loan providers don't want to tell you what your loan is really going to cost. It isn't that the extra is junk or in any way unnecessary. It's that they want their loan to appear more competitive that it may really be. All of the incentives are lined up in favor of this behavior - they got you to sign up, didn't they? - and there is no penalty in law. Of those people who do notice discrepancies, eight to nine out of ten will give in and sign anyway.



This applies also to many agents' "estimate from proceeds of sale" form. Despite the fact that the default purchase contract and usual custom may have the seller paying for certain items, such as a home warranty plan and an owner's policy of title insurance, many agents will leave these costs off the estimate. Unless you're selling a fixer in utterly "as is" condition, you're going to end up paying for a home warranty plan. Unless the buyer's agent utterly hoses them, leaving that agent completely open to lawsuits, you're going to pay for an owner's policy of title insurance. Unwillingness to do so is a universal deal killer unless the buyers are getting a price more than good enough to make it worth their while to pay for it themselves. Even if they've deliberately chosen escrow and title providers such that you're going to pay subescrow costs, they'll likely leave those costs off their estimates. Why? To make it seem like you're getting a better deal from them than you actually are.



I've seen more than a few people who signed up with other agents or loan providers based upon ridiculous low-balls (and over-estimates of sale price). Without exception, these people end up paying every single one of those loan costs. It's not like the people who do the work are going say, "Oh well, it's not like we want to get paid for all this work we did." In the case of sales transactions, that's if it sells - and it's very unlikely to sell at all if it's overpriced. Nonetheless, this gives the person who gives the great line of patter - a supposedly "bigger better deal" - a large advantage in getting people to sign up with them. By the time the clients learn the truth, it's too late. Most people don't want to do the research up front to find out what's really going on. They wait until after they've already been hosed to do the research they needed to do in the first place.



Caveat Emptor

The Three Day Right of Rescission

|

One reason to check your referral logs every day: Sometimes you can find great material for an article. I got one about the three day right of rescission.



This is a feature (or bug, depending upon your situation) with every refinance on a home that is a primary residence. The reason it exists is that until you see the final documents at signing, there is literally no way to prove that what your prospective loan provider quoted you on the Mortgage Loan Disclosure Statement is actually what they intend to deliver. There's a lot of paperwork I can put under your nose to make it look like that's what I intend to deliver, but until you have the final loan documents sitting in front of you, none of it means anything. Just because they give you those wonderful forms like a MLDS or TILA or anything else does not mean that is what they intend to deliver. The only document that is required to be an accurate accounting of the loan and all the money that goes into and comes out is the HUD-1, and that comes at the end of the process, and you get it at the same time as you sign the note.



I have said it before, but there are three documents you need to concentrate on at loan closing. Everything else is in support of those. They are the Trust Deed or Mortgage, the Note, and the aforementioned HUD-1. An unscrupulous lender certainly can slip stuff past you on other forms, but most won't bother. These three forms will tell you about 99.9 percent of the shady dealings. Some lenders and brokers will actually train their loan officers in how to distract you from the numbers on these three documents.



Once you have signed all of the requisite paperwork to finalize your loan (the stuff you sign in front of a notary at the theoretical end of the process), there is potentially a waiting period that begins. Purchases have no federal right of rescission, nor do refinances of rental or investment property, but if it's your primary residence and you are refinancing, you have three business days to call it off. Note that some states may broaden the right of rescission, and some may even lengthen it, but they can't lessen what the federal government gives you.



As an aside, just because you have signed "final" documents does not necessarily mean your loan will fund. There are both "prior to docs" conditions as well as "prior to funding" conditions. The former means they must be satisfied before your final loan documents are generated, the latter means they must be satisfied as a condition of funding the loan. I want to emphasize that there will always be "prior to funding" conditions, but they should be routine things that make sense to do at that time, in that they cannot realistically be done any sooner. Many lenders, however, are moving "prior to docs" conditions to "prior to funding." This has always been prevalent for so-called "hard money" loans, but recently subprime lenders in particular have been emulating their example. The reasoning for doing this is simple. Once you've signed documents, you are bound to them unless you exercise right of rescission. Once right of rescission expires, you are bound to them period, until they either fund the loan or give up on the possibility of funding it. I strongly advise you to ask for a copy of outstanding conditions on your loan commitment.



Assuming that there is a right of rescission applicable, once you have signed final documents, the clock starts ticking. The day you sign documents doesn't count. Sundays and Holidays don't count. It is possible that Saturdays don't count, depending upon the law in your state. Here in California, Saturdays count unless they are holidays. It is three business days. So let's say that you sign final documents with a notary on a Monday of a normal five day week. Tuesday, Wednesday, the Thursday all go by while you have still got your right of rescission. Thursday midnight the right of rescission expires, and the loan can fund on Friday. Note that no lender can or will fund a loan during your right of rescission period, and every so often an otherwise excellent loan officer will have you sign loan documents before some other conditions are finished so that the right of rescission will expire in timely fashion to fund your loan before your rate lock expires. Remember that if the rate is not locked, the rate is not real, but all locks have expirations.



Applicable rights of rescission cannot be waived, cannot be shortened, and cannot be circumvented. Ever. There literally is no provision to do so in the law. This is both intentional and, in my opinion, correct. Kind of defeats the purpose of having it, which is to give you a couple days to consult with professionals before it's final, if it can be waived, because you can bet millions to milliamps that the sharks you are trying to protect folks from would have the folks sign such a document if it existed.



Now, just because the right of rescission has expired and the loan can be funded does not mean that it will be funded, much less on that day. For starters, good escrow officers will not request funding upon a Friday because the client will end up paying interest on both loans over the weekend for no good purpose. Once they request funding, the lender has up to two business days to provide it, and then the escrow officer has two business days to get everybody their money.



Also, remember those "prior to funding" conditions I spoke about a couple of paragraphs ago? If there's something substantive, it usually should have been taken care of prior to signing docs, leaving procedural stuff for prior to funding. But sometimes it can be in your interest to move them, if it means your loan is more likely to fund within the lock period, so you don't have to pay for lock extensions. On the other hand, there has been a movement towards making as many conditions prior to funding as possible, simply because once you have signed final documents you are more tightly bound to that lender.



In summary, if a right of rescission is applicable, start counting with the next business day after you sign final loan documents. After three business days, the right of rescission has expired and the loan can fund. Assuming a normal five day week, and that Saturday counts, as it does in every state I've worked in:



If you sign: Recission expires:

Monday — Thursday midnight

Tuesday — Friday midnight

Wednesday — Saturday midnight

Thursday — Monday midnight

Friday — Tuesday midnight

Saturday — Wednesday midnight

Sunday — Wednesday midnight


Mortgage Loan Rate Locks

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One of the most true sayings in the mortgage business is, "If you can't lock it right now, it's not real."



But many mortgage providers will play a game of wait and hope. They tell you they have a certain loan when they in fact do not, hoping the rates go down to where they do. Or they'll tell you about a rate they actually have, but wait to lock it hoping the rates will go down so they can make more money because when the rates go down, the rebate for a given rate goes up.



Sometimes the rates do go down, and they can deliver. But sometimes the rates go up, too. When this happens, the mortgage provider playing the "wait and hope" game has three choices. They can make less money, charge more for the loan, or punt by playing for time. I shouldn't have to draw adults a picture as their relative likelihoods.



Many times one side effect is a delayed loan. This is probably the number one reason for delayed loans, and one of the strongest reasons I keep telling you that if a provider can't do it in thirty days, they probably can't do it on the terms indicated. Many times they bet on rates going down, when rates actually go up, so they end up with a loan that they can't make any money by doing, so they delay it day by day, week by week hoping the market will move. Note, please, that they usually have zero intention of finishing your loan if the market doesn't move downwards enough. Whether it's National Megabank with a million offices, or Joe Anonymous working out of their home, their motivation is to do what it takes so they make money, and they will keep sweet talking you as long as they possibly can. They're certainly not going to work for free, and many of them will not do it at all rather than compromise their usual loan margin. If you allow them to play this game, when you finally give up in disgust, they still have several weeks after you apply with someone else where they're the only ones that can possibly have the loan done, and if the market moves down during those weeks, they're covered. If you could have gotten a better loan during that period, you likely would. But because you were quoted a price that didn't exist and believed it, they've got what looks to a consumer to be a competitive advantage. And if they call after you've cancelled their loan and say that they can close the loan now when the new provider you just contracted with isn't ready yet, most people will go ahead and sign the papers because This Loan Is Ready now.



There are honest mortgage providers who lock every loan at the time you tell them you want it. But there is no way for a consumer to verify that any given loan provider is among them. All of the paper I can put in front of you as regards a loan rate lock can be easily faked. Which brings us back to one of the standard refrains of the site: Apply for a back up loan.



There is another issue with regard to rate locks. They are all for a certain set period in calendar (not working!) days, usually measured from the time you say you want it to the time the loan actually funds (not until you sign documents). Assuming your loan is actually locked when you say you want it, this means that there is a DEADLINE.



This means that once you tell someone you want the loan, give the loan provider every scrap of documentation they ask for right away, not a week later. The loan provider is not going to pay for the delay, you are. Many banks will not even look at an incomplete loan package, so it is crucial to have the paperwork organized quickly. If that loan goes beyond the initial lock period, you can pretty much count on paying an extension. Some banks charge one tenth of a point for up to five days, some a quarter of a point for up to fifteen days of extension, some even more, but it's always charged in full from the first day of an extension. Sometimes the lender will give an extension for free if it was obviously their fault, but not very often. More likely, whether it was your fault, their fault or nobody's fault, the extension will be charged. Lenders have no sympathy for going over the lock period, and neither do most brokers. The lenders have set a large sum of money aside for your use, and they aren't earning interest on it. They want some kind of compensation, and when you think about it, this is not unreasonable.



Common rate locks are done for 15, 30, or 45 days, but they are available in 15 day increments for almost any length of time out to about nine months. However, there is a cost. The longer the lock period, the costlier the loan. Par becomes higher with a longer lock period. You pay more in points, or get less in rebate for the same type of loan at the same rate. The reason for this is simple. The bank is setting all of this money aside for your use, and not getting any interest in compensation. They are doing you the favor, and they will charge you extension fees if you go past the lock period. I'm looking at a rate sheet right now that was valid a couple of days ago from a medium size lender. For a thirty year fixed rate loan, the discount points go up one eighth of a point between the fifteen and the thirty day lock, and another quarter of a point for a forty-five day lock.



The problem with 15-day locks is that they are useless as an "upfront" lock. Especially with refinancing, where you lose a week by law between signing documents and funding the loan, there just is no way to reliably get it done within this time frame. Even purchases are chancy with the best of cooperation from everybody involved. 15-day locks are primarily a tool of those providers who play the "wait and hope" game mentioned above, and they lock just before printing final loan documents. The fact that they are planning a shorter lock period allows them the illusion of quoting something lower, but even if they tell you what the rates are today, they are quoting you a rate that may or may not exist when the loan is actually ready.



A 30-day lock is most common lock period for those who lock the loan immediately. If both you and the provider are organized, it's enough to reliably do all the paperwork and miscellaneous other projects, get final approval, and get the loan funded. It sounds like a lot of time, but it isn't. On refinances, you lose a week due to legal and system requirements. Let's say you sign the final paperwork on a Monday. By federal law, you have three days to change your mind, and they're not going to fund the loan before that period expires. Monday doesn't count, so Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday go by before anything can be done. Good escrow officers don't usually request funds on Friday, because when they request funding is when the new loan starts accruing interest. Monday they fund the loan, and the bank has up to two days to provide the funds, then the escrow officer has up to two days to pay off the old loan before the documents record and the transaction is essentially complete. This takes us to potentially to Thursday or Friday of the following week.



On purchases, there is no three day Right of Rescission, but if the escrow officer begins funding a loan on Tuesday you are still talking about potentially hanging over until Monday of the next week. Funding doesn't necessarily take this long, but it does happen.



45 day and longer locks are primarily useful for purchases where there is something external holding the loan back. Only rarely do the market conditions become such that longer locks than 30 day become necessary on refinances. Otherwise, they are most often used only when the actual purchase contract says that the purchase can't close until 45 or 60 days from now. There is a tradeoff here, and I may occasionally counsel people to wait if the construction on the house isn't scheduled to be complete for ninety days or longer. This makes for a risk that rates may move in the meantime, but rates generally don't go up in huge jumps, but rather incrementally higher from day to day, and past ninety days you may be risking less by waiting than by locking. There's no reason to pay more for a lock than you have to.



Usually, though, I want to lock it now. As a broker, I can always take it to a different lender if I get a better deal, or if we made the wrong choice and locked when we should have waited. I've seen too many folks burned by lenders or brokers waiting to lock, and all of the rates go up and stay high. If it's not locked, it's not real. Even a legitimate and complete quote is fairy gold until it is actually locked. A bank can withdraw its loan pricing at any time. Sometimes this happens right when I'm in the middle of the locking process, and when this happens, the client gets the new pricing. Period. End of story (some banks will give you 30 minutes to complete locks already in process, but this is subject to limitations). Some lenders and loan providers attempt to hide this (and they call it "Consumer transparency." You may hoot in derision if you so desire. A better name would be something like their "Consumer Ignorance is Bliss" policy. "Don't you go worrying your poor little head about that, ma'am!"). Until the lock process is complete, you don't have a right to those rates.



Caveat Emptor


Have a "looking for cheap" attitude, especially on services meant to protect you.



It's great to have a "looking for value" attitude. If I cost more than someone else, it is in your best interest to ask why, and ask me to justify what I make in terms of value provided to you. I don't resent people that are looking for value. If I can't show them something they agree is more valuable to them, then I can't blame them for going with the person who offers the same exact thing cheaper, and truthfully, I'm probably not the agent they should use. There's plenty of room for all levels of service in the industry.



But to have the attitude that "cheaper is better" presupposes that there is only one possible level of service, and therefore, anyone who provides it any cheaper must therefore be a better value. This is preposterous. I just finished a transaction where my brokerage made about $7000 grand total for the purchase of a condominium and the associated loan. Somebody else might have rebated close to half of the buyer's agency commission - but somebody else didn't get my client a condo for $75,000 less than a model match in the same complex that sold six weeks previous - over a 25% difference in price. Furthermore, that's the grand total. That's not what I get to put in my personal bank account. That's got to pay office rent and electricity and all the costs of staying in business. Once I get my share, I've got to pay taxes and mileage and licensing and continuing education and all the costs I have as an individual of staying in business.



You may get the idea that what's left over isn't as much as most people assume it is. Now you know why discounters cannot afford to provide the same level of service a full service agent can. There are full service agents out there providing discounter service for full pay, but there are no agents providing full service benefits for discounter pay. Even if they were doing twenty transactions per month per agent, they simply aren't making enough to stay in business by doing it that way.



Now, because you're working with an agent who doesn't have the time to do the same due diligence (and may not have the expertise), you're either going to deal with it yourself or hope that the other side of the transaction isn't intending to do anything unethical. Even if they're not intending to do anything, that doesn't mean that nothing will have happened on its own. Sometimes, it really is nobody's fault. I'm working on one now where the septic tank failed the inspection and the inspector said it needs to be replaced. The seller is out roughly $20,000 in order to be able to sell the property. It was fine a few months ago, but isn't now. Nobody's going to buy the property if they can't flush their toilets, so this needs to get taken care of. If I hadn't done my full due diligence, my clients would have had a nasty surprise.



It's not just agents. Appraisers and inspectors are two allied professions where spending just not quite enough can mean they missed what you were paying them to find. Or the appraiser charges you $50 less, but takes three weeks to get it done, during which time you're out four tenths of a point in lock extension fees. On a smallish $200,000 loan, that's $800.



This also applies to loans. It's trivial - and legal - to low ball people who want to know what sort of loan you're likely to get. Are they willing to guarantee their quote? Or are they just getting into the spirit of a game of what amounts to liar's poker where the only way to call the bluff is wait until the end of the process, thirty days out? In such a situation, there's no real reason not to say you've got, "Ten nines," but nobody really has ten nines - I just looked and serial numbers are only eight digits long. But if there's no proof until thirty days out, what happens when they deliver a loan that's pair of ones? I'll tell you: Most people are still going to sign those loan documents. I've gone over how much lenders can legally low-ball quotes in the past. If they can't deliver their quote, they can't deliver it, and it gets you no benefit. I get people hitting the site every day asking questions that indicate to me that their lender presented them with an entirely different loan than they initially told them about to get them to sign up. Consequences to the lender: Zero. Consequence to the borrower: Now you have a choice between signing the documents for this loan, or doing without. Chances are that you're going to sign their papers anyway, which means that lender will be rewarded for lying to get you signed up, and the attitude of "looking for cheap" is what did it to you. I've dealt with any number of people who metaphorically plugged their ears and refused to listen to the downsides of the negative amortization loan. It doesn't change the fact that there are downsides, or how bad they are. It just means you don't know about them. But they sure do have that low payment (for a little while, at least!)



In real estate, breaking the law is only the second best way to create problems for yourself. Since in the current environment, you can count on law breaking being discovered, that should tell you how bad looking for cheap is.



Caveat Emptor

Joint Loans

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First off, let me say that your site has been very informative and helpful. I stumbled across your blog looking for information on ARM vs. 30 year fixed loans and ended up reading every article.

One issue I have never really seen addressed is joint loans. When a couple, married in this case, gets a loan, which FICO score do they use?

Right now, my wife is a nursing student, when she graduates in August we want to buy a new home that is significantly more expensive than our current home. Our combined salaries at that point should be somewhere around 120K. I have been told by a mortgage professional in our first phone conversation that being a student counts for "years in
line of work", but we would have to wait until she receives her first paycheck from her new job before we could count her income. We just accepted an offer on our current home last week, and will have enough cash to put down 10% in the price range we are looking at (200-300 K). If we want to buy before she is employed, but has an offer so we know
her salary, what are our options? It seems to me that we would be in a situation where we are doing a Stated Income type loan.


The answer to this is that whoever make more money is the primary borrower. This works with a couple as well as other arrangements. It's a very simple answer, but you'd be amazed how often I have to repeat it for trainee loan officers. Of course we all want to use whichever score is better, but it's the person who makes more money whom the lender will consider to be the primary borrower.

Now as far as A paper goes, it's kind of academic. If you want to use both incomes for the loan, you both have to qualify. This can be an issue when one spouse forgets to pay bills and the other is as a-retentive as I am about it. Over time, spouses credit reports tend to track one another more and more closely, as they switch from single credit accounts to joint accounts. If it's a joint account, doesn't matter who forgot to pay the bill - you both take the hit. On the other hand, even long-married spouses don't tend to have exactly the same score, and in many cases they have intentionally segregated the credit accounts for precisely this reason, that one spouse is better about paying bills. So one spouse has a 760, and the other spouse has a 560. Ouch.

It is to be noted that the superior solution is to have the responsible spouse pay all of the bills, which results in two high credit scores. Why is this important? If one of you has a 760, they may qualify A paper. If the other has a 560, you have a choice: go subprime, or have the high scoring spouse be the only person on the loan. In other words, when you're talking about A paper, you both have to meet the credit score minimums, or you don't qualify as a couple.

This has implications. Suppose you have a 760 score spouse who makes $3000 per month, and a 560 score spouse who makes $5000 per month, you have a choice: Qualify based upon $3000 per month, go stated income, or drop to subprime.

$3000 per month doesn't qualify for a lot of house most places. So if you're thinking 3 bedroom house, you can be stuck with small one bedroom condo - if you want the best rates.

The second alternative is going stated income. This only works if the necessary income for the loan is believable for someone in that occupation. Somebody who makes $3000 per month is not likely to be in a profession where $8000 per month is a believable income, and most people tend to overbuy a house rather than underbuy, regardless of the fact that underbuying is a lot more intelligent in most cases.

The third solution is to go subprime, where you'll qualify, but get a higher rate. A single borrower with a 760 credit score gets a better loan, with less of a down payment, than the couple in this case - the primary borrower has a 560 score, remember - but they just won't qualify for as large of a loan because they can't afford the payments.

You might also go NINA, which is a "here I am - gotta love me!" approach where income is not verified, nor employment history. The loan you get is based totally upon your credit score and equity picture (how much of a down payment you make, in the case of a purchase). The rate is higher than stated income and the restrictions on equity is greater, but you'll get a better loan at a better interest rate in most cases for a NINA A paper loan than even a full documentation loan for a 560 score.

Now, as to what you were told, student does not, in general, count as time in line of work. As a question to make why this is obvious: How are you going to compute her average income over the last two years? That is the way full documentation loans are justified. Some subprime lenders will accept it (not the better ones), or the person who told you this could just be planning to substitute a stated income loan based upon your income. The fact is, that unless you're talking ugly subprime, they're not going to accept your wife's income until there's some time actually working it. Many people graduate school and never work in the field. They don't pass licensing, or they decide soon after they start that it's not for them.

In this case, you are talking stated income unless you go subprime. It's just the way things are computed. Sorry.

As I keep telling folks, there are a lot of shysters out there in my profession. The easiest way to get people to sign up is to promise the moon, and until you get the final loan paperwork you have no way of knowing whether they intend to deliver what they said.

Caveat Emptor.

Reserves

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Thanks again for the terrific posts. I've learned more about mortgages in the past two months than I ever dreamed I might.

I am looking to buy my first home soon, and have myself in a good credit position to do so. My credit score is over 800 and I have no back-end debt - no car payments, alimony, student loans, etc. My annual salary is well over $100K, and while my down payment will not be as much as I would like, I should be able to put up 20% of the purchase price.

Before I shop for a loan, I have some questions and would appreciate your insight.

1. Do monthly "subscriptions" such as landline phone bill, cable, internet, cell phone, etc. come into consideration? As I have no cell phone and no cable (and don't intend to get them), I see my monthly expenses in this regard as significantly lower than most other borrowers.

2. Do my retirement savings come into play? I have saved conscientiously for several years and between IRA's and pension funds (fully vested) I have a significant amount put away.

Thanks again for the teachings


Gosh, I didn't think a dream client like this existed any more!

In general, there are only three instances when reserves really come into play. They are:

1) Stated Income. Since you are not documenting your income, for a true stated income loan they are looking for evidence that you are living within your means. The measurement that has evolved is six months PITI (Principal Interest Taxes and Insurance) in a form where you can get to it - savings accounts, investments, something. If you have a retirement account, such as a 401, IRA or similar, most lenders will allow you to use a discounted amount, most often 70 percent, as the money would require the payment of taxes and penalties. Roth IRAs may be treated differently, as the rules are different. There is a Stated Income Stated Assets loan programs, but when you get right down to it, those loans look more like heavily propagandized NINA (No Income, No Assets, aka No Ratio loans) than they do a true Stated Income.

2) Payment shock. If your payments are going to be much higher than rent was (or previous payments were), many lenders will require two to three months reserves of PITI payments in reserves.

3) Cash to close. No matter what the loan, the underwriter is going to be looking at the loan to make certain that you have the cash to close, and any reserve requirements are in addition to this. If your loan is going to require a certain amount of cash, either in the form of down payment or loan costs or most often, for prepaid interest or an escrow account, then the underwriter wants to see evidence you've got it. It's no good for the bank for the loan to be approved, the documents printed and signed, the notary paid, and then the loan doesn't close because you didn't really have the cash. Seller paid closing costs are getting to be a really touchy point with many banks, by the way, as they indicate the property may not really be worth the ostensible sales price.

In any of these cases, the underwriter is going to want to see evidence as to where the money came from. They want to know that you've either built it up over time or have had it for quite some time or that you can document where you got it from. What they are looking at with these requirements is the possibility that you got a loan from somewhere that you're going to have to pay back, and the payments on which may mean you no longer qualify under Debt to Income ratio guidelines.

Mind you, it never hurts to have money socked away. But it's not worth any huge amount of contortions to prove. For A paper lenders, the guidelines are razor sharp, and excessive reserves are not a part of them. You've either got the required amount or you don't, and the fact that you have $100 million in investment accounts isn't relevant - and it may cause some underwriters to start wondering why you're not paying for the property in cash or putting more of a down payment (Anytime you give an underwriter more information than required, you run the risk that they will ask you questions about it). Some subprime lenders may approve a loan they would not otherwise have approved, or maybe offer better terms than they might otherwise, but there have been enough adverse experiences with this that it is becoming more rare.

Monthly subscriptions (utilities, etcetera) are why the permissible debt-to-income ratio (DTI) isn't higher. You can cancel cable TV, you can cancel dish network, you can cancel pay per view, you can cancel magazines, although most folks want phone, gas, and electricity. They do not count against your DTI, just payments that you are required to make to keep the accounts on money you have borrowed current. So if you owe the utility company money because you got behind on your payments, that will count, but not the money to keep the utilities current.

Caveat Emptor.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Beginner's Information category from June 2007.

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