Intermediate Information: July 2008 Archives

Today's new consumer article is Conforming and Jumbo Only Apply to "A Paper" Conventional Financing, a discussion of the root differences between A paper, government loans, and subprime.

do you agree that a non recourse loan on a single family home is loaned with out financial risk to the borrower... if they do not want to keep their home when the market drops below what they owe, they can walk away with immunity to any financial loss & the most the lender can do is take back the home, & if the borrower has made all their payments on time & have returned the home in the same condition as when they moved in, their credit will not be negatively, by the lender??? my reference is http://wwlaw.com/forecl.htm

Yes, it is true that purchase money loans are largely non recourse in California. However, I do not agree that there is no financial consequence.

First off, there are credit repercussions for up to ten years. Among other things, this will make it more difficult for the buyer to rent the next property they will live in, as well as making it more difficult to obtain financing on the next property they want to purchase, when they really are ready to join the grown-up world.

Second, just because the lender cannot seek a deficiency judgment does not mean that the IRS will not tax them for debt forgiveness. If the lender loses $50,000 in debt forgiveness, they will report it to the IRS, because they want that deduction from income. The IRS will then tax the former owner whatever tax would be due upon the residence. Income from debt forgiveness is ordinary income, and it is fairly likely to boost the taxpayer up in tax bracket in such a case. So now they have to come up with thousands of dollars. If they had those thousands of dollars, they probably wouldn't have lost the property. So now the IRS is looking for other ways to get their money: attaching wages, confiscating other property, etcetera.

I should also note that there are all kinds of exceptions to the law limiting deficiency judgments for purchase money loans. Fraud is one such limitation; if the buyer had to state more income than they in fact make, that would certainly prove to be an interesting case. I don't do it, but that doesn't mean it never happens. Furthermore, just because the buyer doesn't fall into one of the exceptions does not mean the lender will not contend in court that they do. The law doesn't actually prevent the lender from seeking a deficiency judgment; what it says is that they're not entitled to one if certain conditions hold. Proving that proposition in court is expensive, and the lender can always hope that you simply default by not showing up or something similar.

There are very definitely negative consequences. Buying a property is a complex decision, and should not be done lightly, on the basis of "Walk away if it doesn't work out." The consequences, even if not direct, spread out like ripples in a pond when you drop in a stone. Real estate is a fantastic investment, properly approached. With the tax code and the way leverage works, among other things, it trivially beats anything of equivalent risk for potential reward, or alternatively, beats anything of equal potential for reward as far as low risk. But that risk is not and never will be zero. Indeed, it cannot be. Real estate isn't liquid, and you never get to play with someone else's money risk free. That's two of the many reasons why you need competent professionals on your side.

Caveat Emptor

Second Trust Deeds are something few real estate loan officers really understand well, mostly because the good ones don't make much money on them. Predatory lending laws in most states, limiting total compensation and total expenses to a given percentage of the loan amount, mean that brokers usually can't make enough to pay their expenses unless there's a first trust deed involved as well. Direct lenders can, because neither the premium they receive on the secondary market nor the interest rate is usually restricted. As a result, many direct lenders can get away with highly inflated rates on second mortgages. Most of the people who approach them won't know any better. I've lost count of the number of fourteen and sixteen percent rates I've seen, when eleven is a rotten rate for a sub-prime borrower. But if you will look, second mortgages can be found at surprisingly low rates and surprisingly low cost. If you've got decent credit and a verifiable source of income, fixed rate Home Equity Loans can be had under 8%, and variable rate Home Equity Lines of Credit can be found for 8 to 8.25% (or less). Even sub-prime borrowers can usually find something around 11% if they'll look a little bit.

Second (and Third) Mortgages come in two basic flavors. If you get the proceeds all at once, they are typically fixed rate Home Equity Loans. These are essentially traditional loans. There are also Home Equity Lines of Credit, where you are approved for up to a certain amount, and you can take distributions any time during a draw period that varies from five to ten years in length. These work more like credit cards: You pay interest only on the the outstanding balance at any given time. If you pay it down during the draw period, you can then take it out again.

Once upon a time, both products typically had all of the closing costs that first mortgages did. In the last few years, this has changed, largely driven by competition from credit unions, and I always suspected that second mortgages was why the banking industry was lobbying for restricting credit union membership a few years ago.

There are also two styles of obtaining a second mortgage. "Stand Alone" Second Trust Deeds are done on their own; when they are done in conjunction with a First Trust Deed, they are called "Piggyback" loans. With their popularization as a way of avoiding Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) on low down payment purchases, pretty much every lender in my database does piggyback seconds. However, only about half will do stand alone seconds. With the regulations the way they are, even the higher interest rates are not attractive enough to get them to do the loan, because it takes basically the same amount of work.

Because "piggybacks" are done in conjunction with first mortgages, everybody wants them and everybody does them. Additional lender charges can be small to non-existent. They benefit from having the first done at the same time, and since all that work has already been done for the first, the additional work is kind of minimal. Whether they're a broker or direct lender, they make enough on the first that they don't have to charge as much for a second.

Good "stand alones" are harder to find. For instance, here in California, predatory lending laws limit both total broker compensation and total costs of the loan to six percent, but it still costs about $3500 to do the loan unless the lender relaxes one or more of the traditional requirements. For brokers, this means that they can't jack the rate up to pay for the costs of the loan. If the loan is $50,000, $3500 is seven percent of the loan amount. If brokers try to make it up via yield spread, Section 32 limiting total broker compensation to six percent kicks in, and they cannot do it. Note that this limitation does not apply to direct lenders, as their eventual premium on the secondary market is not covered, and the amount of interest they receive if they hold the note is only subject to very weak governance rules. Upshot: Stand alone second mortgages, unlike first mortgages, are a very hard area for brokers to compete well in. I've got a couple internet based lenders for higher loan amounts (about $75,000 and up), but for smaller loans than that I will usually tell folks straight up that credit unions are likely to give a better deal than I can. For first mortgages, or firsts with piggyback seconds, that situation is reversed.

In some certain situations, due to the low cost of doing second mortgages, I can actually get a client a better loan by doing a purchase money loan under a program traditionally associated with stand alone second trust deeds. With some credit unions and major lenders offering them at 8% or even under, and up to $500,000 with minimal paperwork requirements and low to zero closing costs to the client, it can be a good way to get someone who cannot qualify full documentation anyway enough money a loan for a low end property, particularly if they are making a substantial down payment. If you're buying a $150,000 one bedroom condo, avoiding the $3500 to $4000 for closing costs associated with a first mortgage can cut your effective interest rate for a loan you keep two to three years by about one percent.

Caveat Emptor


Hello Mr. Melson, Let me start off by saying that I am a big fan of your "Searchlight Crusade" website. I happened upon it a while back after I had already purchased my house. I've found a lot of useful information and I try to refer my friends and family to your site when they ask me home-buying/mortgage questions.

I am emailing you because I am considering a refinance. Just a little background info: I purchased a 3bedroom/2bath 1183 sq ft home in DELETED for $323,000 in Nov 2004. I am a DELETED with a credit score of 801. My wife is a part time DELETED with a credit score of 814.

I put no money down. I have my mortgage split into two loans (80/20). My first mortgage is $259K interest only with a rate of 5.375 fixed for 5 years with a payment of $1157.42. My second loan is about $64K HELOC interest only with what seems to be a monthly adjustable rate with my payments now close to $600. Both loans do not have a prepayment penalty. I've only been paying the interest every month. We plan to stay in the home for at least another three years (we are from out of state and might move back there when my son goes to high school - he's currently in the 5th grade). There is a possibility we might stay in DELETED at which point we're likely to stay in the house.

I was thinking about refinancing my HELOC so that the rate would be fixed. I spoke with my lender and I was offered a 15 yr loan with a fixed rate of 7.5% with a payment "around $600" with a prepayment penalty before 5 years.

Based on recent sales, my house is worth about $350K. Because of this I was told I could not refinance both loans into one.

Do you think it would be worth it to refinance. If so, what type of loan should I do? Or should I figure out if I'm staying in DELETED or moving back?

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

I would love to give you my business if you know of anything that will work in my situation.


My first reaction was that there is no way anyone should accept a HELOC with a five year pre-payment penalty such as described.

You are going to need to refinance your first in November 2009 if not sooner. When that happens, there are going to be issues with subordination which are likely to cause you to want to pay your new second off, especially as the lender you mention has a policy of no subordinations.

This is an excellent question. Truthfully, an 8.00 or 8.25 percent Home Equity Loan (usually 30 year amortization, with the balance due at the end of 15 years in a balloon payment) will likely do better for you. Now my calculator says that a 30 due in 15 at 7.5 will have a fully amortized payment of $447.50, while a 15 year payoff is $593.29. Don't accept approximate payments, even as a quote - exact numbers tell you far too much about what's really going on. Also, you are and should remain at or below 95% Comprehensive Loan to Value (CLTV), which makes a difference on rate.

Some seconds have smaller penalties, so that may modify the answer. For instance, one lender I do a fair amount of business with has a very low closing cost second with a $500 prepayment penalty, in effect for three years. The cost to buy it off? $500. However, the standard prepayment penalty would be 80% of six months interest, or about $1920. Assuming you refinance in exactly three years, that boosts your effective rate by one full percent.

Now I'm happy to do whatever "stand alone" seconds come my way, a "stand alone" second trust deed being one where the primary mortgage is not being refinanced at the same time, as opposed to a "piggyback" where there is both a first and a second trust deed. However, the truth is that the best source for "stand alone" second mortgages is usually a credit union. I've got a couple of internet based lenders that are very competitive for high dollar value seconds, but for stand alone seconds below $75,000, credit unions rule. It was more cost effective to do our second with my wife's credit union than to do it myself. Just has to do with the mechanics of how brokers are set up and the way that most second trust deed lenders work.

Now you do have to be able to make those payments. But what you should really be paying attention to is the total cost of the money. How much in closing costs you have to pay to get the loan done, plus how much the loan is going to cost you in interest every month. It was only a couple of years ago that most traditional lenders would charge the same closing costs for a stand alone second that they would for a primary mortgage. For a $64,000 second, that $3500 in closing costs is almost 5.5% before you get to the actual interest charge - the equivalent of a 1.8% surcharge to the rate, assuming you kept it three years. You're better off taking a 9.5% rate that carries no closing costs than you are with an 8% rate that carries traditional ones, and that's not even considering the fact that you still owe most, if not all of that extra $3500, when you go to sell your house or refinance.

The situation, luckily for borrowers, has changed. Many lenders have very low cost stand-alone second trust deed programs, whether you are looking for a fixed rate home equity loan (HEL) or a flexible Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC). The rates are higher than first trust deed loans, but the requirements are lower. Because the rates are higher, lenders are competing for these loans, with credit unions leading the charge. If there's a first mortgage involved, things are different. Most credit unions don't really have the resources to handle first trust deeds, with dollar values having appreciated the way they have. So they partner with major commercial banks, becoming essentially dedicated brokers for first mortgages, while competing ever harder for second mortgages in their own right. Nonetheless, because lenders want second trust deed loans, the result of their competing with each other has been a drastic drop in closing costs for second trust deeds over the past few years.

Caveat Emptor

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This page is a archive of entries in the Intermediate Information category from July 2008.

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