Intermediate Information: March 2007 Archives

I am not exactly certain how to start this essay. I'm kind of in a position analogous to writing Hitler's biography in late 1940. We know at this point he's a miserable excuse for a human being, but we don't have the evidence discovered in the last four and a half years of the war as to how sick he truly was.



The negative amortization loan is in a very similar situation. It's a miserable excuse for a loan, causing a lot of damage, but we don't yet know how much. With most housing market gurus finally agreeing with what I've been saying for the last year, talking about a need for a readjustment in real estate prices, we are pretty certain that there's going to be a drastic re-evaluation of the home market soon. We are missing the data of exactly how bad it's going to be.



The negative amortization loan, with all its friendly sounding synonyms (Option ARM, Pick Your Payment, 1% loan, and variations and combinations thereof), is an idea that comes around periodically, and right now happens to be one of those times. Last time was the mid 1980s, and we had people driving their cars through the lobbies of savings and loan buildings in protest after they got hit with this loan's GOTCHA! If you see ads on the Internet or elsewhere advertising "$200,000 loan for $650 per month!" (or something similar) one of these abominations is what they're trying to hook you with.



These loans look, at first glance, to be wonderful - too good to be true. That is because they aren't true. Furthermore, given the fact that loan officers and real estate agents want to get paid, and the damage isn't apparent to the average consumer until well down the line, the unscrupulous ones sell a lot of these. I can point to loan and real estate offices where they do no other kinds of loans. Why? Because given the fact that most people shop for a loan or a home based upon the monthly payment, these are the easiest loans in the world to sell, and how many homes do you usually buy from a given real estate agent anyway? Cash flow is important, but watching only cash flow ends up in Ponzi schemes, Enron, and negative amortization loans.



I want to make very clear that yield spread is not a reason not to do a given loan. If a loan officer shops around and does the work to qualify you for a better loan on the same terms while increasing their compensation, they deserve to be paid that money. But you need to do your due diligence, also. Bottom line, no loan officer or real estate agent can rip you off without your consent. Make sure it's a better loan by making an apples to apples comparison based upon what you, the client, are actually getting. For example, if one provider is getting you a loan at 5.5%, that looks to be better than 6.5% at first glance, correct? But if the first loan is only fixed for two years, and has two points on it as well as $4000 of closing costs and a five year prepayment penalty, while the second loan is fixed for thirty years and the lender is paying all of your closing costs with no prepayment penalty, I submit that the second loan is the better loan. The negative amortization loan, piece of garbage that it is, compares favorably with no other loan available today. The yield spread varies between three and four points on these things, with most of the lenders tending towards the higher end of that spectrum in order to compete. To give you a comparison, in order to get four points of yield spread on any other type of loan, I have to give people an interest rate at least two full percent higher than the going rate!



Basically, what this loan does is give you three or four options for your payment every month. The lowest of these is the bank allowing you to make a payment as if your interest rate was somewhere between one and two percent, with most of them now congregating towards the lower end of the spectrum in order to compete with one another. This low rate of 1% or so IS NOT YOUR REAL RATE. IT IS NOT WHAT YOU ARE ACTUALLY BEING CHARGED! I don't know how many people I've talked to that were being taken for a ride and asked me, "Isn't there any way this is the real rate?" THE ANSWER IS NO. Let's pretend you are a bank officer. Remember, you're one sharp person, and you have another whole group of very sharp people watching what you do. If for an equivalent amount of risk, you can get about 7 percent somewhere else with a different investment, are you going to give some poor sap I mean someone you don't know a 1% loan that messes the heck out of your quarterly usage of capital bonus? Not to mention your bosses? Not on planet Earth.



The second payment option will be to make a payment based upon an interest only loan at the real rate you are being charged. I've seen the piranha that sell these loans trying to prey on each other extolling the virtues of COFI or MTA loans, depending upon which they have. The fact is that they've each got their limitations, and their upsides and downsides as opposed to the other. The problem with each and every one of these is that they are month to month variable from the beginning. There is no period where your real rate is fixed. You will never know next month's rate until it happens. Thus far in my career, I've always had loans that are fixed for three to five years, at rates lower than this rate that the loan is really charging you. In other words, this second payment option is based upon a rate that changes every month, based upon the movement of an underlying index plus a margin.



The third payment option is to make an amortized payment based upon that same month-to-month rate. This is roughly analogous to a standard thirty-year loan, except that it is not fixed, and unless you make a payment of at least this much, next month's payment options are going to be worse. The fourth and final payment option given by most lenders who do these is for the client to make a fifteen-year payment. Before we move on, the point needs to be made that almost nobody actually makes the payment for either of these options, much less makes these payments habitually as opposed to the other options. These payments are higher, and are not good selling points for this loan. If the client could afford to make these payments, there are better loans to be had. This is a metaphorical fig leaf to cover their naked taking advantage of you. "Well, he could make (or could have made) this payment but didn't. It's not my fault." The reason they didn't make the payment, Mr. Unscrupulous Realtor, is because YOU told them they didn't have to. You SOLD them the house based upon the nominal payment, not the real cost. You got a bigger commission by making it look like they could afford more house than they really can. Unless they start making drastically more money at some point, they are likely to lose the house, and they may lose it anyway. I know you think it's not your problem, but some ex-client with a good lawyer is going to make it your problem.



Now, what happens if you make each of these payments? Obviously, if you make the payment for either the third or fourth option, you are paying your loan down. If you make the payment for the second option, that is basically a break-even, except that next months payments will be computed based upon one fewer month with which to pay the loan off.



What happens for 95 percent of the people who do these loans 95 percent of the time is they make payment option one. What happens in this case, where the client is making a payment that is less than the amount of interest on the loan for that month? The bank isn't going to just eat the difference. That interest has to go somewhere.



Where it goes is into the balance of the loan. This means the balance for your loan - the amount you owe the bank - goes up every month that you make this payment option. Furthermore, next month it earns interest also. Next month the difference between what you pay and what you are charged gets higher, and even more money is applied to your loan. You're being bit by compound interest. This is the first reason why the lenders will pay loan officers who do these loans so much. The lender knows that in the vast majority of all cases, the clients will end up owing them more money than they originally borrowed.



Furthermore, every single one of these loans that I know of has a three-year prepayment penalty. This means that even after you figure out that you've been taken for a ride, you're either still stuck with them for the rest of three years or you're going to pay a penalty amounting to thousands of dollars. Not a bad position for a lender to be in for leading you down the primrose path, is it?



I haven't even gone over recast provisions (the 1% rate, even though it's nominal, not real, doesn't last forever), and various other lurking GOTCHA!s. I hear a lot of arguments from the various lazy lowlifes who make a habit of doing these loans rationalizing what they're doing. "Those old loans had no cap. Now there's a nine percent cap" The fact is that if the client could afford six percent, there are other better loans to be doing. "They'll more than make up for it in increased equity as prices rise." Well, maybe, IF the market continues to rise, which is unlikely at the current time and never something you should bet other people's financial health upon. It's a crapshoot, at best, and the prevalence of these loans is one reason why the market is so overheated. In any event, the client is going to end up owing more money. Unless they're going to sell and not be a homeowner any more, they're going to have to pay the loan sometime, and in the meantime the longer they keep it, the worse it gets. What happens in three years if home prices are lower and the loan gets recast and now they cannot refinance out of it? Another refrain I hear from these people: "It's the only way to get them into a home!", meaning it's the only way for them to earn a commission (or, more often, the way for them to earn a bigger commission). The clients still end up owing more money at the end of the pre-payment penalty, and it'll keep getting worse the longer they keep the loan. They're still going to need to pay it back, unless they sell, and sell at a sizable profit. Furthermore, if they couldn't afford a reasonable loan in the first place when they needed to borrow $X, what makes you thing they're going to be able to afford a reasonable loan three years down the line when they owe $Y more. This is not a stable, sustainable situation for the client! Maybe in a case like this, they should continue renting. Of course, that doesn't get you a commission, does it, Mr. Unscrupulous Realtor? It certainly doesn't encourage the client to stretch beyond their means and get you a bigger commission, either, does it?



For any loan officer who does these reading this, face it: These things are a way to mess up your client who is putting money into your pocket. These put the clients into worse situations than when they started. You are betting upon factors beyond your control to save both you and them. One of these days, probably very soon, these are going to come back and bite you hard. Violation of fiduciary duty. All it takes is one of your clients getting into a bad situation who gets a good lawyer, and your career is toast along with your pocketbook.



For those of the general public reading this, I hope I've opened your eyes to some of the pitfalls of this loan. I encourage you to ask questions if you have them. But this loan is one that is designed for a narrow set of circumstances tailored around cash flow for a limited amount of time (and the one time I actually had a client who was in the situation where he could actually benefit from a negative amortization loan, none of the companies I submitted it to would approve it. This tells me that who they say it is for and what they really want are two separate things). Negative Amortization loans are abused by being misapplied because it's such an easy loan to sell to those who do not understand the way they work, and all because people shop for a loan based upon payment. So don't shop for a loan based upon payment. And if anyone offers you one of these loans, drag them into the sunlight, drive a wooden stake through their heart, and RUN AWAY! Somebody who offers you one of these is not your friend.



Caveat Emptor

That was a question I got. The answer is that it shouldn't make a difference, but it does. You see, lenders who work in markets that are less than A paper perform qualification calculations based upon the initial payment, at least until some pending regulations take effect. Furthermore, I'm about 180 degrees from convinced that it's really helping anyone.



Here's how it works and why it works. Less than A paper lenders currently perform their calculations as to whether or not a specific borrower qualifies based only upon the initial payment. Let's say the loan contemplated is an interest only 2/28 at a teaser rate of 6% that's going to jump to 8% in two years when it starts amortizing (even if the underlying index stays exactly where it is), and the loan amount contemplated is $250,000. This makes for a monthly payment of $1250. Because this fits within the guideline Debt to Income Ratio guidelines, usually 50% for sub-prime, they can qualify and get the loan approved. But in two years when the loan adjusts and starts to amortize, the payment jumps to $1866.90. This is not certain, but it's far from the worst case possible. It is what will happen if the financial indexes don't change, and so a good default guess, as nobody knows where the indexes will be in two years. If you know where the indexes will be in two years, please call me. With that knowledge and mine, we can make enough money for our grandchildren to retire on. Guaranteed. Because nobody else knows where the market will be in two years.



So the upshot is that even though the payment is predictably going to increase by essentially fifty percent (49.35) in two years, to a level this particular prospective borrower does not qualify for, this loan will likely be approved under current sub-prime guidelines.



There are banking regulation changes pending to change the qualification procedure, forcing all lenders, rather than only "A paper" ones, to perform their qualification computations based upon the fact that the payments on these loans are certain to increase. These regulations are long overdue in my honest opinion, but they are not in effect as of this writing. Under current guidelines, this loan would be approved. Actually, the directive that forces "A paper" to underwrite these loans based upon the higher payments currently comes from Fannie and Freddie, not the regulators, and is one reason why hybrid ARMS at a lower interest rate are actually harder to qualify for than fixed rate loans in the "A paper" world.



Nor is this 2/28 teaser loan what is generally meant by a "buydown", although it is one of the things the phrase has been misapplied to. A true buydown is a temporary reduction in rate on a fixed rate loan, purchased by means of discount points paid up front. As I explained in the linked article, these buydowns typically cost more than they are really worth to the client in terms of dollars. Indeed, they are most often used in conjunction with VA Loans, where because up to three percent of closing costs over and above purchase price can be rolled into the loan with no money out of the veteran's pockets, the typical veteran sees only the reduction in payments, not the costs, which are real and they did pay, albeit, due to an accounting trick, with money out of their future equity and not with money out of their savings.



However, due to the fact that most people shop houses and loans based upon payment, the reduction in payments makes it look like they can afford a more expensive house than they should in fact buy. That temporary buydown is going to expire, certain as gravity, and the clients are going to end up making those higher payments. There is precisely zero uncertainty about it. If they can't afford them, the bad consequences will still happen, precisely as if the buydown had never been. All of the tricks of the past decade to defuse this were based upon falling interest rates and rapidly rising real estate values. Lest you not understand, these are never acceptable reasons for betting someone else's financial future, as so many agents and loan officers did. If you are a real estate and financial sophisticate who understands the risks, it is one thing to bet your own financial future. It is never acceptable to bet the future of someone else, particularly if they are not an expert, without a frank discussion of those risks and advising them to get the opinions of disinterested experts.



This whole idea of temporary buydowns is bad because it allows the less scrupulous real estate professionals to encourage buyers and borrowers to overextend themselves. Now that the general public is waking up to the downsides of negative amortization loans and stated income loans, these are one of the few remaining ways to make it appear as if people qualify for a more expensive property because of a higher dollar value loan, than they do in fact qualify for by objective consideration of the guidelines. This particular way of pushing the guidelines isn't as extreme as the previously mentioned ones, and doesn't push the bottom line on what they can make it look like people can afford by as much, but if these people could sell people based upon what they really qualify for, they wouldn't be playing these sorts of games with the numbers.



Furthermore, if these folks could really afford the full payments on the loans being contemplated, there are better loans to be doing. Without that interest only rider on the 2/28, I could buy the interest rate down by at least a quarter of a percent on the same loan type. For that matter, I can quite likely get a thirty year fixed rate loan for that same borrower at a lower rate than the 2/28 will jump to in the default case of the underlying indexes going exactly nowhere. For the true temporary buydown, without my borrowers paying those three points of upfront cost, I could cut those borrowers real, permanent rate on that fixed rate loan by at least three quarters of a percent, probably more. Whether even that is worth doing is highly questionable, but at least it's an open question worthy of discussion with a possible case for "yes" that a reasonable person can defend with numbers, not a mathematically certain "no way!" Show me someone who uses buydowns for their clients habitually, and I'll show you a serial financial rapist.



In short, temporary buydowns don't really help anyone, except maybe the seller who can unload their house to someone who shouldn't be able to qualify. Not buyers or borrowers, who are encouraged to stretch beyond their means through their use. Not lenders, brokers, or agents, due to these problems that people were in denial about for a very long time coming home to roost, meaning that those who practice in this manner will very likely be subject to auditors and regulators in the near future.



Caveat Emptor

I have to admit to being conflicted. The numbers say no. The psychology says yes. Let's examine both.



Most first mortgages out there are between six and seven percent, and tax deductible at a marginal rate of about 28%. If you're one of those folks with something in the low fives or even below, enjoy it while you've got it, because the odds of getting something better when you move to a more expensive home or need to refinance are pretty slim.



I'm going to do the numbers based upon 6 percent, with 28% marginal deductibility. This has limits; to wit if your mortgage interest gets to be low enough that you don't hit the threshold where it is worthwhile to itemize, but instead take the standard deduction, that deductibility didn't do you any good. But above that threshold, which is most people, every dollar in interest you spend gives you back 28 cents. I'm also going to assume a 30 year fully amortized mortgage.



Obviously, you don't want to pay an effective 4.32 percent interest rate for no good reason at all, but this does not take place in a vacuum. If you didn't use that money to pay down your mortgage, you could use it to invest elsewhere. For instance, let's assume you could make 8% net on average if you invested this money elsewhere. This is a reasonable average when you consider ordinary income, capital gains, and possibly a certain amount of tax deferment.



Now, some people might think to add in the difference in interest paid, but that is not correct. The payment is constant. Whatever you didn't pay in interest was already applied to principal. To count it again would be double counting.



Let's say you've got $100 extra per month, and a $400,000 loan. I'm going to go yearly 10 years out, then at 5 year intervals. The median time in a property is about 9 years, which means a whole new set of decisions about which property to buy. This is only a valid experiment so long as all of the starting assumptions stay constant, and when you have a whole new set of decisions about which property to buy and for how much, all of that goes out the window, as it is no longer controlled only by the variables chosen at start. Truth be told, refinancing should probably halt the experiment as well.



For the below, I have just summarized the differences. Extra principal is how much more you've paid the loan down with the extra amount, if you did so. Tax cost is the total tax cost of the interest you didn't pay. Investment is how much the money you'd have if you didn't pay the extra, but socked it away in an investment account. Gain/loss is the net result, positive if you came out ahead by making the payments, negative if you should have invested the money.







Year

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

15

20

25

Extra Prin

$1,233.56

$2,543.20

$3,933.61

$5,409.78

$6,977.00

$8,640.89

$10,407.39

$12,282.85

$14,273.99

$16,387.93

$29,081.87

$46,204.09

$69,299.40

tax cost

$11.12

$43.66

$98.92

$178.31

$283.33

$415.55

$576.64

$768.40

$992.70

$3,218.31

$8,083.64

$16,153.28

$28,545.04

investment

$1,353.29

$2,593.32

$4,180.58

$5,772.56

$7,496.67

$9,363.88

$11,386.07

$13,576.10

$15,947.91

$18,516.57

$34,934.51

$59,394.72

$95,836.66

gain/loss

-$130.86

-$211.07

-$345.89

-$541.09

-$803.00

-$1,138.54

-$1,555.32

-$2,061.65

-$2,666.62

-$3,380.20

-$8,996.28

-$19,472.46

-$37,638.11





As you can see, the numbers come out fairly strongly for not taking the extra and making payments.



However, the psychology says yes. There's a major sense of accomplishment in paying off the property. Furthermore, once you don't owe the money, you've got it in the form of equity, as opposed to cash, which is all too easy to spend. In fact, most folks will fall off either the investment wagon or the extra payments wagon over time. Money you don't owe cannot be called due. If there's a temporary setback in the market, extra payments make it that much less likely you'll ever be upside down or in an impacted equity situation, although you could also apply the cash from the investment account to your equity or to the rest of your finances, to keep from having to do a cash out refinance. Finally, there's the reduced stress from being mortgage free for (in this case) thirty six months earlier, if you are one of those rare people who manages to pay their mortgage off.



Now, I also have a spreadsheet that compares the net financial result between never refinancing, refinancing every 5 years and keeping a target of paying all loans off in 360 months from the time you bought, and refinancing every 5 years but making the minimum payment. In the majority of cases, the last situation comes out better, largely due to the effects of leverage, but leverage is always a two-edged sword. If things go the way you want, it makes them even better. If things don't go the way you want, it makes them even worse. There are lots of folks getting bit hard by over-leveraging real estate right now. The usual numbers say that making larger payments is likely not the best use you have for the money. But there is a certain psychological comfort in owing less and paying off the mortgage sooner, and occasionally, making larger payments might mean you end up able to sell or refinance when you need to, without those potentially nasty consequences of being upside-down.



Caveat Emptor


I have a landlord, that is always harassing me every 2 weeks, for the past 2 years, on the upkeep of the property, and wants to have inspections. Also want me to mail them all their mail. Most of which is Bank stuff. I am fed up, and thinking they are under a Owner Occupied Loan. Is there a way I could find out? And who do I complain to, if I decide to?


It is a misconception to think that just because someone moves out, they can no longer have an owner occupied loan.

In fact, the typical owner occupancy agreement that is required in order to get owner occupied financing is only a twelve month occupancy. I buy or refinance today, I agree to live in it for twelve months in order to get those rates. After I have met that requirement, I can move out, rent it out, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. That loan contract is in effect, I have lived up to all of my obligations as far as owner occupancy, and I can keep that loan as long as I maintain my end of the other parts of the contract.

Now it is possible, as I discovered once upon a time, that if you have an owner occupied loan with lender A, that same lender may refuse to give you another owner occupied loan on a different property. In this case, it was refinance the loan on the other property, or accept a second home loan on property A. But notice how, even then, the lender did not force them to refinance despite the fact that they hadn't lived in the other property for years. They just offered the owner the choice of accepting a slightly less favorable loan or refinancing the existing owner occupied into another occupancy type. Or, being brokers, we could submit the package to another lender. There are circumstances where each of these three possibilities may be the best choice. The lenders do not share this data between each other; indeed, my understanding is that they cannot legally do so. It was only applying for a second owner occupied loans from the same lender that brought this on, and not every lender even does this much. If thirty year fixed rate loans are the only type you ever apply for, it is theoretically possible to legitimately have a new owner occupied loan starting each and every time you have met the minimum time for owner occupancy for the previous lender. In extreme cases, it might be possible to get upwards of twenty owner occupied loans all in force at the same time.

The minimum owner occupancy requirement can be different. One year is by far the most common, but there is no reason that I am aware of why it cannot be longer, if that is what is specified in the contract. However, I do not know of any lenders that require you to refinance or requires you to pay a surcharge if you move out once you have met the required period of owner occupancy specified in your Note.

Caveat Emptor

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This page is a archive of entries in the Intermediate Information category from March 2007.

Intermediate Information: February 2007 is the previous archive.

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