This is going to be a long article and somewhat technical in places, but it needs to be covered and it's important to everyone who is thinking about getting a real estate loan.

"Fall-Out" is very simple: The number and percentage of dollars of loans that get locked that eventually fund. If I lock $1 million worth of loans this month, and fund $650,000 of that, I have a fall out ratio of 35%, and a "pull through" of 65% (my personal "pull through" is much higher than that, but this is an industry wide issue). The secondary loan market is putting immense pressure upon lenders to deliver a very high percentage of what gets locked. This has implications for the way loan officers need to handle loan applications, when they lock your loan, and many other things.

I got this email sent to me the other day from headquarters. It's representative of tensions going on between the interests of consumers and the interests of lenders, and has implications for what can be done to advance the interests of consumers and the direction the loan industry is likely to go in the near future. Because the email is long, I'm going to break it up and respond in pieces. I'm going to put the email text in various block quotes, while my responses will be normal text style. If I need to change some jargon in the body of the email to render it comprehensible, I'm going to change it and put the changed text into parentheses. Specifically identifiable information (personal or corporate), I am going to show as DELETED.

The question has come up many times "Is the brokerage business going to survive?"

I recently had factors explained to me that moves my answer away from just having a positive faith into a more realistic understanding of what elements will determine the outcome. Economic systems live or die on economics. Seems simple enough. If the brokerage channel is economically viable, then it will survive; if not, it won't. If companies are economical, they will survive; if not, they won't. And of course, the same is true for (loan officers).

In my discussions with that lender, I now have a better understanding of how fallout plays into the economic model and what lenders are going to do differently now to ensure their own survival. Brokerage channels are inherently more unreliable and inconsistent on fulfilling lock promises than retail banking. As such, the secondary market is paying substantially less for broker commitments than the equivalent banking commitment. When bank retail (loan officers) lock loans, they don't have the ability to move the loan for a better rate. The pull through on locks in retail channels is 10-20% higher than DELETED. The reason I bolded above is broker (loan officers) vary on pull through from 10% to 45% back to 100%. It's that inconsistency that prevents lenders from picking, say 40% fallout as the number. When you want the lock to exist, you want your cake. It's just broker LO's want both.

It shouldn't come as any surprise to anyone that this is changing, driven by the secondary market. When a loan officer locks a loan, the bank turns around and orders funding from Wall Street Investors at the rates available at that time. This changes with market conditions, and that is the reason why there can be half a dozen loan repricings per day as the market waxes and wanes with events. If that money that gets ordered does not in fact get used, the bank is out the money.

This is going to have effects within the industry. Consumers are going to find it much harder to get a loan locked without paying a deposit to the lender. The only way - and only loan officers - which are going to be an exception to this are loan officers who either 1) Float the rate while telling you it's locked, or 2) Ruthlessly weed out their loan applications of anyone who is less than fully qualified and completely committed to this loan. Since one or the other of these latter conditions applies to the vast majority of everyone, the practical upshot of would be a loan officer passing upon the majority of their potential income, which just is not going to happen.

Mortgage Loan Rate Locks have always been the horns of a dilemma for loan officers. Lock now and you risk the consumer bailing out on you if the rates fall, or demanding a renegotiation. Float the rate, and you risk those rates rising to the point where the consumer is angry, starts shopping elsewhere, or even just blows off the idea of getting a loan entirely. Consumers have had this choice far too easy for the last ten years or so, free-riding upon the intense competition between lenders. In case you haven't noticed, there aren't nearly so many lenders in business today as there were a few years ago. Lenders are going to start charging for a rate lock because they are now able to do so. This may change back again in a few years, but for now you can look at it as the way things are going to be for the foreseeable future.

Lenders need to have 75% pull through in order to make money. Think about it: in order for them to sell their portfolios, roll in all the costs of their operation, roll in all the "touches" on files that close and all the files that don't close, the lost hedge fees on loans that don't close, plus all the losses that occur on buybacks - 75% is the bar they have set. When a company is below that, they lose money.

As you've seen, lenders are starting to differentiate between profitable companies and unprofitable companies. DELETED volume makes a lender's effort at rehabilitation worthwhile. That lure is always there, but if the relationship doesn't work, it doesn't work. DELETED has long talked about fallout as a major problem, but lenders and DELETED have been giving it only lip service in the past. No longer.

If the brokerage business is to survive, the broker has to make it so the lender wins. No lender, no broker. Since the lender knows the relationship is symbiotic, many lenders are creating pricing tiers to incentivize companies to figure it out. That is only the first step. Lenders are now dropping unprofitable mortgage as they try to improve their execution price with Fannie/Freddie. In other words, the brokerage business will be smaller, more focused, more partner-like than what has been in the previous "sales" model of mortgage brokering. DELETED plans to "partner" with its top lenders and assure top tier pull through in order to get the best from each company. We need to make that commitment to them which will assure our mutual survival.

A very important shift must occur to be successful. The (loan officers) must shift their thinking to make sure the lender wins 80+% of the time. The math is very, very simple: What's the dollar volume that gets locked? What is the dollar volume that closes? What's the ratio?

I would take issue with the contention that "the lender needs 75% pull-through to make money". Their own captive loan officers rarely achieve 75% pull through. Talk to me about it when lenders start firing their "in house" loan officers for less than 75% pull through. But there is a point at which it is no longer profitable to do business with a given brokerage or loan officer, and a large percentage of loan officers are below that point. The upshot is that lenders are increasingly serious about this, and are terminating relationships that don't measure up. For that matter, they are terminating their own loan officers, albeit for mostly unrelated reasons. Net result: fewer loan officers, less competition, and the balance of power shifts more towards those loan officers remaining in the business, away from consumers. Nor is this going to be an issue at brokerages only - direct lender loan officers are going to get hit by it.

This is also leading towards a dichotomy that the lenders which are more reluctant to lock a loan are going to be able to get better pricing for their loans once they do lock. The lenders are passing along the negative parts of the investor incentives to whomever is originating the loan. If you've been reading this site very long, you've heard me say upon multiple occasions that "It's not real if it's not locked." But if I lock a loan for someone who is playing games, it hurts all of my clients as well as my ability to attract future clients, so I'm going to be really careful about which loans I lock, and I am going to be very upfront about what it's going to take in order to lock a given loan. I'd rather lose one loan than the ability to compete as strongly as I do, let alone lose access to a lender with useful programs. I am still disposed against the cash deposit in order to lock, but I may have no choice in the long run. Loan officers, whether they're brokers or work directly for the bank, have to keep lenders happy or pay the consequences, which means all of their clients also pay those consequences.

This is why the backup loan is dead - even I can't do them any longer. What this means is that you have to do real due diligence ahead of time, nail down prospective loan providers by asking them all the necessary questions and insisting upon a loan quote guarantee. Alternatively, you'll probably be able to make a cash deposit - but the loan originators are going to get very hardcore about keeping it if you don't fund your loan. It won't matter why - your fault, my fault, nobody's fault. The downside of all of this is that instead of having a third option, consumers are going to be stuck with either loan A or no loan at all, giving unscrupulous originators even more of an edge than they've got already.

Here's the tough part. It doesn't matter:

* That the house didn't appraise

* That the borrower didn't qualify

* That the rates dropped significantly

* That the borrower walked

* That the borrower was related to someone who got them a better deal

* That the Lender changed their program mid stream

* Etc, Etc, Etc.!!!

If you locked, the lender lost money. Of course those are good (loan officer) reasons, but if DELETED loses our lender relationships due to those reasons, then something's got to change. The thing that has to change (and will change) is what factors must exist for the (loan officers) to lock. Ideally, after Clear to Close, lock it and doc it and get 'er done. But many (loan officers) don't work that way. Well, I am asserting that ultimately there is no home anywhere in the mortgage business for the (loan officer) who locks first and apps later. No home for the (loan officer) who locks before he's run (automated underwriting system), seen the documentation, determined value, and checked with the lender. No one will be able to lock as what will soon be referred to as "old school". All brokers will have to conform to this mode of thinking.

He's unfortunately correct - and it's going to apply to all loan officers, whether they work at a brokerage or for a direct lender. It's going to take a very sharp loan officer to be able to get away with locking before clearance to close. Loan officers who do that are going to have to know the standards cold, and still they will be taking risks. But here's the thing - you want a loan officer who is willing to lock sooner than that.

I'm not certain that any of these except "lender changing their program mid-stream" is unpreventable. At the end of January 2009, Fannie and Freddie suddenly imposed a requirement that almost half of everyone with a loan in progress fell afoul of, and that they suddenly became over-conscious of the fact that they've had a major fall-out surge is supremely ironic, because that surge was nobody's fault except their own. "House didn't appraise" did not used to be a factor if the buyer's agent knew what they were doing. This has changed because the new appraisal standards are a disaster for consumers, loan officers and appraisers, and only good for corporations in the appraisal management company business. It's a bad news/good news/horrible news situation. The bad news is that good ethical appraisers and good ethical loan officers basically can no longer develop or keep a working relationship. The good news is that the less ethical examples of each are going to start running up against the better ones on the other side of the relationship, and the good ones are going to complain. The horrible news is going to be that there is nothing that good loan officers can do about rotten appraisers. If you don't think this doesn't have consequences, let me know - I need a good laugh these days. The appraiser's professional organization has learned the hard truth about being careful what you ask for, as appraisers are making less despite appraisals being more expensive, and it's not the careful and honest appraisers who are getting the work.

When I first wrote this, "Borrower didn't qualify" was ninety nine percent preventable by going over income documentation on debt to income ratio, asset documentation and being mindful of how much cash a buyer has to play with so that you know how much you need for loan to value ratio and cash to close, and if necessary, the the buyer's agent writes the purchase offer and negotiates it with the loan in mind. It's been a long time since the necessity of buyer's agents consulting a loan officer before you make a purchase offer began, and listing agents to require that a lender's prequalification or preapproval letter must be offer-specific - tailored to this particular purchase offer on this particular property at this particular point in time. If not, you might as well use the that letter for toilet paper because it doesn't mean anything. You can't fake up a loan any longer with a 100% loan to value stated income negative amortization loan. Agents have got to learn to be clear whether a potential buyer can qualify before they write the offer - and definitely before you counsel your listing client to accept it. It's also smart to build in a bit of wiggle room in the qualification. Lender standards are cold and hard thin lines - on one side, the buyers qualify, while on the other, they don't. If buyers have stretched to the absolute limit and the tradeoff between rate and cost on loans shifts upwards just a little bit, that can put a buyer on the other side of a hard line that says "No way". For buyer's agents, the need to be able to work within a client budget, and also to persuade those clients to stay within that budget, is here to stay. There are no more Make Believe Loans.

"But what if rates drop half a percent and the lender has a bad re-lock policy?"

Don't use that lender if they have a horrible re-lock policy. The re-lock policy is a feature of the product they are selling. Don't buy from them if you don't like that feature.

"What if their rates are terrific?"

Then use them, but keep your pull through at 80% or be subject to consequences.

And that's the issue. The brokerage community has never really had to pay the consequences. Now brokers will. Therefore, brokers and (loan officers) have grown up in the industry with the mindset of the child whose parents constantly threatens and repeats, but never follows through. The shocking turnaround seems unfair. But what really is happening is a movement to align value with value. "For those that help us win, they get value. For those that don't, they're gone."

This is a fact of life for all loan officers, whether they're working for a brokerage or a direct lender. It is therefore going to be a fact of life for consumers, and it is going to have effects upon their loan choices. Consumers are going to have to decide between great rates and the ability to cancel a loan without consequences. Consumers are going to be forced to choose between locking early and not having to make a loan deposit. I despise deposits, but there it is. Consumers are going to have to learn that there are things which may not be obvious on the face of it that are important to their loan satisfaction, to do their due diligence first, and if they don't do it right, they are going to be stuck. Consumers are going to have to learn the difference between merely talking a good game, and actually delivering the loan that was talked about. Loan originators are not going to accept dual applicants (lest they lose hundreds to thousands of dollars per loan when their fall out ratio becomes unacceptably high), and while all credit reports run within fourteen days count as one, it's going to be more than fourteen days between credit reports if you've had a loan fall apart in between. And consumers are going to need to be far more in touch with the consequences of their choices, as the ability of loan officers to shelter their clients is disintegrating.

I've spoken with several small to midsize mortgage companies throughout the country. They are being cut off by lenders for several reasons: low volume, high fallout, high touches. DELETED have avoided that fate due to our volume; however, there could come a time that volume won't even help if we don't move our pull through and quality into the next era.

This is from a lender this morning that supports my point:

What does a "loan lock" mean? One top agent sent out a note to her staff. "I think as a consumer, or even a loan officer, when we lock a loan, we feel like we are simply "securing" or "holding" that rate for a client. That is only part of it. Once a lock is made, at that moment, the investor is expecting delivery of that loan at the interest rate as part of their portfolio. (In essence, the loan might not be closed, but it is already sold.) If you can't deliver, or don't close on time, or you are just simply "trying" to secure a "deal" based on rate, then the investor is going to call your lender and ask, "Where is my loan? Where is my money?" Then your lender might try to "replace" that loan with another loan, or just say to the investor, "Sorry." You are not just simply holding for you and your client an "Insurance Policy" to try to get that rate, if by some chance you get the loan, you are, in fact, impacting the investors who are trying to make money on those sold loans. It may be hard to miss that "single day" rates are awesome...but, if you are not in Contract, and you don't have an Appraisal...and you don't have a true file you can close in 30 days...then DON'T LOCK...UNTIL YOU DO! LOCK when you KNOW you are going to close it. Lock AFTER you have an approval. Don't lock at multiple Banks. A lock is a promise to deliver!"

The lenders are starting to enforce that promise to deliver, and putting loan originators who don't deliver into the penalty box if not throwing them out of the game entirely. Anywhere that loan originators go, their customers will follow. The loan originators that survive are going to be the ones who are careful about locking, and make it difficult for clients to bail out of a rate lock without an over-ridingly good reason. The ethical ones are honest about it. The less ethical ones are continuing to give you the same snowjob you've always gotten from them.

One of the practical effects of this is going to be to essentially kill online mortgage quotes as being of any actual use whatsoever to the public. I am sorry to see this happen, but that's economic reality. When loan officers can't honestly quote you a binding rate and cost without building in an an ungodly amount of slop to account for how much the market may move between quote and lock, there are going to be two kinds of quotes: High ones that the loan officer is prepared to stand behind, and low ones that are the result of lowballing, wishful thinking and just plain lying. There will be no exceptions. The originators can either quote you a rate and cost predicated upon the rate/cost tradeoffs not going up, or they can make an honest allowance for that. In the first case, if the rates go up, you're either paying the higher amount or you're not going to have a loan, as loan originators certainly aren't going to do loans which cost them money, as these would require them to do. The only alternative for this brand of loan officer is to play the "wait, delay, and hope" game in speculation of the rate/cost tradeoffs coming back down. In the second alternative, you're going to be expecting consumers to sign up for apparently high priced but real loans versus shameless lowballs that are not going to be delivered on those terms when the loan is ready to go. That hasn't been working out very well for consumers these last forty years or so - I see no reason to expect it to miraculously change now.

These developments have made a lot of changes to effectively shopping for a real estate loan. The one thing that isn't going to change is that you're going to have to have a real conversation with several loan officers, and ask each and every one of them all of the relevant questions. Just getting a quote and hanging up is going to become even more of a recipe for disaster than it already is, and those who believe otherwise are fooling only themselves.

Caveat Emptor

Origianl article here

People are understandably hazy on the difference between pre-qualification and pre-approval. Pre-qualification is a non-rigorous process whereby somebody says that based upon the information as presented to them, it appears you'll qualify for the loan.

Pre-approval should be more rigorous. For A paper, it should mean that you have documentation of income and assets acceptable to loan underwriters, made certain debt to income ratio, loan to value ratio, and cash to close all work with this particular offer on this particular property. Some (for those qualifying A paper) might then taken that information off that documentation, including qualifying rate, income information, credit information, etcetera through one of the automated underwriting programs, and have it come back with an "accept". All that is needed is the actual underwriting.

Due to the nature of the loan and real estate market, very few people actually get a pre-approval. Why? It costs money to do all of that, and takes a lot of time. Furthermore, it's based upon a qualifying rate. If rates go up, you have two choices: live with a higher rate or pay more money to buy the rate down, and sometimes no matter how much money you pay, the old qualifying rate isn't available. You can't lock the loan with any lender that I am aware of until you have a specific piece of real estate, so your rate will float between pre-approval and a fully negotiated agreement to purchase. Nor is the fall-out rate significantly lower for pre-approval as opposed to pre-qualification.

Furthermore, people have an unfortunate habit of stretching to the very limit to buy more house than they should. If you attempt to build in a little margin on the pre-approval, you're going to qualify them for less money than someone else.

With sub-prime lenders, they don't have Fannie and Freddie's programs to fall back upon, and if Fannie and Freddie will approve you, you shouldn't be getting a sub-prime loan. So in most cases, they have to go through essentially a full underwrite of the file, and agree to pay a cancellation fee if you don't fund within X number of months. Remember also what I told you about having an underwriter do part of their work now, part later. Every time they pick up that file is a real possibility that they will find something wrong that is a good reason not to fund the loan, or imposing a condition that the borrower cannot meet. Result: Dead loan, and in this case where you thought you had it covered, it really ticks off the client, understandably so. I'm a correspondent broker; I can always submit elsewhere, but direct lenders are stuck, and the client doesn't exactly like paying that cancellation fee, either.

Many seller's agents are getting tired of getting metaphorically left at the altar because a preapproval and pre-qualification mean so little, and are starting to demand a lenders letters with special conditions accompany their offers. I do sympathize with their plight, but that doesn't mean that the solutions they are trying aren't illegal under RESPA or even merely Counter-productive. Loan standards are way too tight right now, unsustainably so in my opinion, but that doesn't change the fact that agents have to obey the law and really need to learn what loan standards are. I submit an offer on behalf of a client, the listing agents are required to submit it to the owners in any case. Most seller's agents wouldn't know what a qualified buyer was if it bit them. Income documentation? Credit Score? Debt to income ratio? They are happily clueless, and they don't know how to negotiate for an appropriate deposit, with appropriate controls on who gets it and when. Furthermore, they don't want to drive off potential buyers, although this is exactly what most of their tricks do. A good buyer's agent knows better in this current market, but on the other hand they don't want to waste time with an unqualified buyer in the first place, and many of them have no more clue than listing agents what a qualified buyer looks like.

I've told you before that a large number of listing agents are lazy clods whose skills are mostly limited to getting the seller's signature on the listing agreement. They don't want to do the work more than once, and will drive off willing buyers who actually are decently strong, hoping for someone like King Midas to roll in so they only have to do the work once. Never mind that if they do it right, most of the time the clearances and such only have to be done once. But in the current market, driving off any willing buyer with a decent chance of qualification is a good way to have the property sit for months. if not have the listing fail altogether. Every so often, when I'm calling around to check about showing properties, an agent will tell me that they have two offers. Sure you do, Mister. After it sits for six months, suddenly two separate groups decide it's worth buying when everything else on the market is languishing? If the two offers are real and not a figment of someone's imagination, neither one of them is good, or you would have accepted one and the property would be in escrow. If such offers are real, they're desperation checks from the sharks.

But even in a seller's market, requiring illegal pre-approvals is counterproductive, and may mean that you are disallowing the person who would give you or your client the best offer, and are very likely to be a well-qualified buyer. Yes, it may stop you from dealing with some of the "riff-raff", but the work it saves you could cost your client thousands of dollars, and you signed on to do that work. So if you're a potential seller, ask questions about this potential situation.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

The majority of the protections that folks have are aimed at helping non-professionals have a chance in the complex and nearly incomprehensible maze that is real estate. The legal presumption is basically that you are a babe in the woods, and can easily be led astray by the fast-talking real estate broker and the big bad mortgage lender. And actually, this isn't too far off. I have seen enough to know that however bad a choice Negative Amortization loans are for 99 percent of the population, an unscrupulous agent and/or an unscrupulous loan provider can talk 95 percent plus of the public into getting one of them simply by accentuating the low payment and not mentioning the fact that your balance increases, among other things that a fully informed consumer might regard as inimical about them. Particularly in combination, each of them hoping for a big commission (the agent from a house beyond what the client can really afford, the loan provider from the associated loan), they reinforce each other's credibility beyond all but the most skeptical of laypersons to withstand.

When you get into investment property, however, this isn't just your personal residence any more. This is no longer something every living person needs, a place to live.

You are now intending to make money.

You are now in business. You are a businessperson. It does happen, of course, but it is difficult to have much sympathy for a businessperson who doesn't know enough to conduct business of that nature. Some Poor Guy who wants to get in on the American Dream is entitled to significant legal protection against all the sharp and smooth operators out there. But once you get out of the realm of personal use and get into the realm of making money, now you are telling the world that you know something about this (or at least that you should know something).

You have promoted yourself into the realm of sophisticated user. The legal presumption is no longer that you are a babe in the woods, although you may be every bit as much of one as the person in the earlier example. But because you have promoted yourself to someone trying to make money, many of the protections and disclosure rules do not apply.

It's not like you went out and got a real estate license (unless you did) or passed the bar, which automatically gives you the right to a broker's license in most states. There are still significant protections even there. But if they wanted to push the point, your agent and loan provider could probably eliminate half the forms you're asked to sign. The three day right of rescission on refinances goes away because instead of being presumed to require consultation with professional experts, you are presumed to be a professional expert. Why are you in the business if you're not an expert?

Needless to say, this point has become quite the illuminator of experience for many folks who see others making money via real estate investments, and think, "That's easy! I can do it too!" All too often, people who may be used to the protection afforded the general public get burned when they are presumed to be experts by the law. Not that the government has done a particularly good job of protecting the general public, but the sharks in those waters have to make it look reasonable. The sharks who swim in the waters of investment property have no such limitation. They talked you into a bad loan? For your own personal use, you have the three day right of rescission and many banking laws designed to require that the bank show something that can be construed as a benefit to you, the borrower. Lower payment, lower interest rate, something that persuades a judge that a rational person might have done this. The person with an investment property doesn't have that protection. So what if it leads to bankruptcy? You did it. You must have had some reason.

I am not a lawyer, but I have seen enough happen to have some appreciation for the protections consumers do have. Real Estate investments, handled correctly, can make you a humongous amount of money. The point I'm trying to make is that they can also lose the unwary a lot of money. The amount of loose money available in real estate for the picking is the lure for a large number of professional sharks. A professional who wants to be one of those sharks has any number of ways to make something appear to be to your benefit when it really isn't.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

Just like "we'll beat any deal!" in any other competitive sales endeavor, this is a game. Actually, it's even more of a game for loans than it is anywhere else, used cars included. What they are hoping is that you'll go there last, and tell them what the best thing you've been quoted, and then they can sell you on their loan and most people will go with them, because "we're here, not there."

The first issue is that anyone can give a low quote. It's like the old joke, "Your lips are moving." Unless they guarantee that quote, that's all they're doing: flapping their gums. All a quote is is an estimate, and I've more than adequately covered the games it is legal to play with a Good Faith Estimate (or MLDS in California). By itself, A low quote means nothing. Loan officers can, legally, quote you one loan and deliver a completely different loan at a completely different rate with a completely different (higher, or course) closing cost. This has become a little more difficult with the new rules for the 2010 Good Faith Estimate, but there are still loopholes you can steer a supertanker through and the people who practice bait and switch are very good at hitting those loopholes.

The second issue is that even if they are quoting a loan they intend to deliver, unless they are quoting to the exact same standard, the quote game favors the lender who pretends third party costs don't exist, who pretends that you're not going to pay for add-ons that you are going to pay for at the end of the process, the lender who quotes based upon a loan that you do not qualify for. Are you going to pay these costs? Absolutely. Would you rather know about them at the beginning, so you can make an informed choice, or get blindsided at closing (assuming you even notice)?

The third issue is that they are looking for safe harbor, and they're hoping you give it to them. If someone brings them everyone else's quotes, they know what everyone else has talked up, how big the lies are that the prospect has been told, and they just have to tell one that's a little bit better. This is trivial when you've got all that information you've been freely given. This is called false competition. You've metaphorically given them a mark, and told them to "tell a more attractive story than this one." Easy enough in a storytelling context - tell the same story with a little more sex - and even easier with loans.

A good loan officer has no need to know what quote you've been given to tell you what the best loan they can deliver is. Tell them to quote you the best loan they can without this information. Ask them if they'll guarantee that quote, because a quote that isn't guaranteed - as in they pay any difference, not you - is worthless. That's how you can choose the best rate that can really be delivered, not by allowing someone the advantage of knowing how much they have to lie to get the business.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here


When Israel invaded southern Lebanon a few years ago, this picture from Reuters ran worldwide

20060805BeirutPhotoshop

The problem was that it was heavily photoshopped by a Palestinian stringer trying to make it appear like the Israelis were setting the entire city on fire indiscriminately. This was original photo:

20060806BeirutPhotoshop09

It shows one fire and smoke from it drifting as it dissipated, presenting a far different picture of the situation. Instead of shelling everywhere, Israel was making precise strikes at locations where there actually were terrorists firing at their troops. Reuters got a lot of bad publicity out of this, and it cost them a fair amount of money because it wasn't what they were representing it to be. Reuters claims to be reporting the news as it really is without an agenda to grind, and items like this (of which there have been many) punch significant holes in their credibility with people who really pay attention to what's going on. (If you care, I got the photos from an article Little Green Footballs did on it)

So what's this got to do with real estate?

Unlike Reuters, listing agents don't have any sort of obligation to report the news as it is. Theoretically, agents and Realtors have a duty of fair and honest dealing with all parties, but this is more honored in the breach than in any other way, and they figure that if you can come out and see the actual property, doctored photos don't matter. It's their job to make the property look attractive. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are at stake. People lie, cheat, steal, commit felonies and risk jail to sell real estate for a higher price - on that scale, the minor dishonesty of doctoring photos just doesn't register. Result: Lots of photoshopped pictures.

I do not understand why people pay attention to online photos. Actually, I do. I'll admit to being a bit slow on the uptake - it must have taken two months back when I first started being an agent for me to stop paying attention to them. People think they're saving the time and gas of driving to ugly properties. The truth is that there really isn't a lot of actual correlation between ugly photos and bad properties, or good photos and worthwhile properties. I usually don't look at photos at all unless clients want to talk about them - I look at several other factors that tell me whether there's a possibility of finding a bargain here.

Most buyers, however, won't listen until they've had a certain amount of bitter experience with cold hard reality, which is that somewhere between the camera lens and the online listing pictures, there have usually been alterations made. I tell my clients point blank that I never look at photos, but when people are starting to look it seems they just can't help but shop for property by the photographs. After all, this apparently saves the effort of driving to the property! Even when I ask people point blank whether they've heard of photoshopping, they won't connect it to this situation - until they've dragged themselves to a couple dozen properties where the photos did their subjects entirely too much justice, if you know what I mean.

Instead of pictures, I tend to look at things like price (especially as compared to nearby properties), showing instructions, whether the listing acts like it really wants to sell or is doing the peasantry the immense favor of offering it for for their perusal, whether the listing agent works within a very few miles or is from further away and a few other data points that most clients never do figure out the importance of. Are they telling us it's a "fee simple" title while admitting there are HOA fees? If they're trying to play buyers for saps, chances are that property is not going to be a bargain or even so much as worth looking at. That listing agent is hoping to get a sucker to come in and via Dual Agency make an offer based on an undebunked rose-colored picture of the property. Not only is this another reason buyers want to find a good buyer's agent before they start looking at actual property, but it's a sign that there are likely to be other games going on once you make an offer as well.

Sometimes pictures not only haven't been altered, but don't do their subject properties sufficient justice. It is just as silly to toss a property from consideration for a bad photo as it is to include it because of a photoshopped one. The only way to see what it really looks like is to go look at it with your own eyeballs - there are no acceptable substitutes. I've seen just as many real pictures taken with bad cameras from poor vantage points as I have photoshopped ones. As I've discussed, just because flinty eyed buyer's specialists like myself have learned to ignore online photos, or at least take them with an appropriate amount of salt, doesn't mean everyone has. Good photos can bring people out to the property to look.

I do advise against photoshopping in significant ways. If the photo doesn't match the reality, most people will figure it out at some point. It's fine to choose a good angle that shows the property to advantage, but if you change an entire room full of clutter to what George Orwell would have called unpersons, people who actually come look at the property, which is what you want pictures to cause them to do, are going to be turned off. If you simply showed things as they are, someone might have thought it was good enough. It really is a matter of managing expectations. Lure people with a promise of something super, and the merely satisfactory doesn't cut it, but if they're only expecting the satisfactory, they might be happy with it.

I don't trust any real estate photos I can't vouch for personally, which means that I have learned not to pay a whole lot of attention to them. Similarly, doctoring photos doesn't really help. If potential buyers are obsessing about the cool pictures of the bathroom, the kitchen, or the backyard pool, they're more likely than not going to be disappointed when they actually go to the property, and disappointed people don't make good offers, which is what the sellers (and their agents!) really want.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

I found you on the Web after doing some research for my parents regarding short sales and foreclosures. I appreciate your straight talk regarding the whole loan and real estate process which I know they find incredibly intimidating. Right now, they're sort of putting their head in the sand regarding their financial problems. I have been trying to help them stay afloat but it's becoming tight. My mom received a default letter from the lender last week since she was two months behind. She sent one payment last week and I wrote a check to her lender for this month's mortgage to bring her current. I told her I couldn't do this again. She wants to walk away from the house, I told her "bad idea." My parents can't make the payments anymore and I am wondering if they should sell or refi. Here are the stats:

They've got a 7% fixed for three years which they are about a year and a half into. The payment is plus or minus $3100. The mortgage is $468,000 with a $12,000 pre-payment penalty. I don't know how they got into this mess but seeing her struggle and cry each month is something I can't watch anymore. My father and she (they're in their early 60s) have 2 pensions and 2 Social Security payments they receive each month. They make enough to make their house payment but not enough to cover all the other bills. My mom's logic is - "If I didn't have the house payment I could pay my bills." I tell her that her home is more important, and looking at your articles it seems to me the consequence of not making your mortgage if far worse then not paying credit card and car loan debt. Their credit is good but they don't want the house because the mortgage is so high. They talk of renting but I am afraid if they walk away from the house-the consequences will be dire.

In your experience is their hope? I've offered to refinance with them, the three of us, but would that help? I already own a home with my husband - I imagine there are occupancy restrictions? I have good credit. If they sell, it would be short with the pre-payment penalty. Are their agents that would sell the house? I can't imagine they'd want to since there would be no money for a commission.

Here's the real crux of the matter: These folks owe $468,000 and have a payment of about $3115 at a seven percent interest rate. Those are cold hard facts. As of this writing, there just aren't any loans out there that will help them enough to be worth paying that pre-payment penalty. There are loans that would make it appear as if they can afford the loan for a while longer - with even more dire long term consequences. Someone could boost their interest rate by maybe a quarter of a percent in order to cut their payment slightly with an interest only payment - but then the hole would stay just as deep as it is, and all interest only payments eventually start to amortize. The longer it is before this happens, the worse the payment shock when it happens. Most interest only loans adjust upwards on the rate at the same time. Sudden forty percent increases are nothing out of the ordinary. Even a longer amortization isn't going to help very much - even assuming the interest rate doesn't change, by the time you add that prepayment penalty in there, you've got a payment of $2982, even assuming no loan costs or fees get rolled in.

The point I'm trying to make is that I can't see a way for them to really be able to afford this property. Matter of fact, I have a very hard time believing that the agent and loan officer who sold them on this situation didn't do something both illegal and unethical along the way, and your parents should consult a real estate attorney about that. Nor is refinancing with you on the loan likely to help. As of right now, despite the fact that rates are close to the lowest they've ever been, there just aren't any loans enough better than what they already have to be worth paying both the pre-payment penalty and the cost involved, especially given the circumstances that they have major hits to their credit situation with the late payments. Not to mention the fact that the appraisal is going to be problematic, even more so now than when this was originally written. Sure, there are still appraisers willing to say that property is worth $500,000 when it isn't, but they're a lot fewer, and the one positive thing the new appraisal standards now implemented have is making it very difficult to direct loans to compliant appraisers (the greatest negative from consumer point of view is I can't direct them away from utter incompetents, either). And if you can't afford to make their payment as well as your own, putting yourself on their mortgage is a good way to sink your credit as well as theirs. Then you have problems down the line with your own property.

I sympathize with these folks and you, but the only way they're likely to get rid of unaffordable mortgage payments is to get rid of the property. Unless, of course, they've got enough cash sitting around somewhere to pay their mortgage down enough to make it affordable. However, if they could do that, why didn't they put the money in as a down payment? I'd need more information to be certain, but I strongly suspect that it's time to own up to the truth, which is that they have purchased too much house (or taken too much cash out) and they cannot afford it.

With that said, "walking away" is just about the worst thing you can do in most situations. Now the lender has to go through the whole dreary process of foreclosure, with is going to effectively kill their credit for seven to ten years, and might cause the interest rate on any other debt they have to rise as well as making it more difficult to rent. They need a lawyer to advise them on their situation. Anyone in this situation needs a lawyer, and I'm not a lawyer. With that said, the following options are usually better:

You can talk to the lender about the situation. Lenders don't want to foreclose. They don't make money when they foreclose. In fact, they lose it by the railroad carload. If it'll keep them out of foreclosure, chances are good that the lender will agree to a temporary loan modification of the note which will give your parents time to sell the property. They may or may not agree to accept a short payoff as well. It'll depend upon the listing agent and the lawyer. And yes, banks will usually agree to allow agent commissions in short payoff situations - it gets the property sold, which means they lose less money than if it goes all the way through foreclosure and they have to hire an agent anyway.

Another option that can be worth exploring is the Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure. This is where you sign the property over to them in satisfaction of the debt. It has the advantage that it stops future hits to credit. Although Deed in Lieu is itself one of the deadly sins according to mortgage providers, it's not as bad as a Trustee's Sale in most cases, and you don't have all the individual derogatory reports of the late (non-existent!) payments between now and whenever the Trustee's Sale happens.

One thing to warn of is that all of this, except perhaps for the Trustee's Sale, is the cause for a 1099 to be issued for income through debt forgiveness. Your parents will probably owe taxes on this money, so I strongly advise them to consult a tax professional as well (As best I recall, it's ordinary income, the same as if they had earned it working). In some cases, there may be a deficiency judgment as well, while in others there may not be. Nonetheless, this money is likely to be for a much smaller amount than $468,000, so they can probably dig themselves out, given time, and without living completely poverty stricken and without completely torpedoing whatever financial future they may have.

I know you wrote to me as a loan officer, but with the rates and loans available right now - especially considering the late payments on the mortgage - there's nothing the loan officer can do that actually helps, although there are a lot of loan officers out there who would say they'd help. If they were sitting in my office, it would be time to put on my Realtor hat and talk about selling that property. I wouldn't be happy about it, but the universe doesn't particularly care about making me happy, and it's the best way I see out of a bad situation.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

If you don't know, chances are your agent doesn't either. Even if you know, chances are that your agent is as clueless as a newborn about loans.

I and my clients get asked for all kinds of nonsense (to put it very kindly) by listing agents. Every single one of them has some kind of idea what makes a good lender letter, and none of them are correct. As of this moment, not one single agent (other than me) has asked for anything in the way of a lender letter that means a damned thing.

The first thing to get into your head is that there is no such thing as a letter that guarantees funding on a loan pre-purchase contract. No loan officer can write a letter that guarantees a loan will fund. The only guarantee of funding is a loan commitment written by an underwriter, which may or may not have conditions a particular borrower can meet. Commitments are always written to a specific property, and require (among many other things) either already holding title to the property or a fully negotiated purchase contract to buy a specific property. You tell me how any buyer is going to get that before the purchase contract is negotiated. Go on, we're waiting.

The fact is that loan officers cannot be held responsible for preapproval and prequalification letters. Unforseeable things really do pop up, and loan standards do change. I got lucky and didn't lose anyone when Freddie and Fannie changed their standards on investment property in late January 2009 - but that was sheer luck. Skill had nothing to do with it. I can name loan officers that lost sixty percent of their loans in progress through no fault of their own. One day those were perfectly good loans that everyone wanted - the next day nobody could fund them.

Sometimes, a full underwrite of the file finds that the borrower applicant has somehow misrepresented their situation. More often, there was something lurking in the background that the loan officer didn't know about and the borrower didn't realize was important. Upshot: there is no such thing as an infallible lender letter. Nor can you successfully sue the loan officer who wrote the letter. Since you can't sue the loan officer, many loan officers get very lazy about writing their lender letters. There is no magic bullet for determining who is and who isn't doing full due diligence. The loan officer writing a preapproval or prequalification has got to show his work, and you (or someone you trust) has got to have enough understanding of loans to follow that work and enough understanding of current loan standards to know whether such a loan can be done. There are no shortcuts to this that work, for all of the illegal, unethical, and just plain wishful thinking for shortcuts that get tried.

Let's list a couple of the wrong methods. The first and most common is dictating that you have to have a lender letter from a particular lender or loan officer. This is illegal under RESPA. I don't care how many years you've been doing it, or how many times you've done it, it's still illegal. it doesn't matter if the client is dictating the choice of lender, it is still illegal under RESPA. I don't care who the specific lender or loan officer is, it is still illegal under RESPA. Everybody involved is breaking the law - whomever designates the specific provider, you for going along with it, and any lender involved if they are aware of it. I offer the client the option of whether they want to go get the lender letter from the specified source anyway as a way of not making waves in the transaction, but this is common enough that I've gone to the trouble of making up a template for letters to send to Department of Housing and Urban Development later. The folks at HUD are well aware that agents and Realtors do this for kickback and mutual referral purposes, and they frown on it severely. You can win the argument for the transaction if you're silly enough to insist, but six months down the line HUD is going to be knocking at your doorstep for a RESPA violation, and it's probably not a good idea to be telling them how long you've been doing it wrong and how. An agent might keep their license over one although they're going to be facing hefty fines, and I'm sure that as a client you'd rush right out and sign up with an agent who has broken the law, right? Better for all concerned not to do it at all. If you're an agent who does this now, stop immediately. All it takes is one complaint, and HUD will often subpoena back records of all of your former listings. Ignorance is no excuse.

Of late, the "must have letter from direct lender" has gotten more popular, although this is another way of simply ruining a perfectly good piece of paper. No big loss, but getting your preapproval doesn't mean anything more from a direct lender than it does from a broker. Less, actually, as most loan officers working for direct lenders are a lot less experienced in the ways that loans get rejected. Nor are they any better at taking into account the effects of a specific transaction upon likelihood to qualify. They aren't any better at knowledge of lending standards, either. I've seen some pretty stupid letters from direct lenders that brokers with a broader knowledge of industry standards would laugh at. This requirement is useless if not counterproductive, and is usually practiced by agents looking for a cheap way to cover their backside in case the transaction falls apart, in which case they will show the client "See, they had a letter from National Megabank! If we can't trust them, who can we trust?" This entire line of thinking is what logicians call a Red Herring - an irrelevant distraction to the important question, and even counterproductive in this particular case, and if you have a competent real estate agent, they should know enough to know better.

Enough of what a good lender letter isn't. Let's talk about what it is.

First of all, a lender's letter must be specific to a given purchase offer. It has to be written in accordance with the purchase offer that is being made, and therefore written within no more than one business day prior to the tender of the offer. "Why" You ask? Because every single transaction is different. Rates change every day - or more specifically, the tradeoff between rate and cost changes every day. The purchase price being offered on this transaction is not the same as the purchase price they may have offered last time, and the down payment may not be the same, meaning the loan amount and the projected payment are not the same, either. The borrower may no longer have sufficient cash to consummate the transaction with all of these changes. All of this is basic, "hit the ball with the bat" level stuff. If any of it changes, so can the answer to the question of whether a loan is possible. There are people wandering around with lenders letters that are months old; with the standards changes and rate changes the only things those are useful for is tinder for a fire or a good laugh.

Second, and even more importantly, the loan officer must show their work. What's the borrower's known and documented income? What are their cash reserves available for this loan? You want a lender's letter that testifies to the exact amount of cash reserves the borrower has shown, details where any additional funding is coming from, and how long of a period how much income is averaged over (at least 17 months), to give a figure for monthly income. It should also specify the actual FICO score reported by each major agency. You can't hold the loan officer who wrote the letter responsible if the loan fails to fund, but you can hold them responsible for specific statements about assets and income and credit score. Not only that, having this information gives you the opportunity to check their work! Indeed, the only advantage of not showing such information is that it gives weak or unqualified buyer/borrowers a chance to pull the wool over someone's eyes, and since those buyers are risking thousands of dollars that is clearly not to their benefit either. These numbers are what is really important, not the identity of someone who writes a "black box" letter - "I don't know how they're qualified, but this says they are!" Wouldn't you really rather be able to check and know?

A good lender's letter will lead you through the calculations of loan to value ratio and the specific rate, point, and closing costs of the loan being contemplated, as well as required reserves for prepaid interest and impound account and compare it to known assets to determine that the buyer really does have enough cash to close the transaction. If they don't and you accept their offer, you are praying for a miracle because that is what it will take to make this loan close.

A good lender's letter will also go through the computations for debt to income ratio based upon the loan quoted. They have determined income averaged over a period which leads to average monthly income. You should be able to determine within a very close range exactly what the other costs of owning the property are going to be. The lender's letter should state a number for monthly debt service for existing obligations - credit cards, student loans, car payments, etcetera. This number is available right on the credit report, and if the credit report is not used as the source of this number, there should be a good explanation as to why the number on the credit report was not used. You don't need to know the social security number and all of the account numbers, or even all of the individual payments. What you do need to know - what you are entitled to know - is whether they qualify for the loan, which means the total of existing monthly debt service is necessary. It is also sufficient unto the task, which means you have no justification for asking for more information. If the total cost of owning the property and existing debt service fit within appropriate debt to income ratio guidelines, you have a qualified buyer. If not, you are wasting your time accepting their offer because they are not going to qualify. Stated income loans are all but legally dead, and I don't know of a single source that actually funds them right now - you can figure at least a two percent differential right now at the same cost as well as a rock bottom equity requirement of twenty percent - more likely twenty-five to thirty. Your buyer is going to have to document income to the lender in order to qualify for that loan, so they can bloody well tell the seller how much income they can document. That seller is making a decision of whether to grant credit, and if the buyers cannot qualify for that loan probably going to cost those sellers thousands of dollars. Therefore, the seller is completely justified in asking for this information - they are perfectly justified in requiring it.

The contemplated loan should have been priced within one business day of submitting that offer to purchase, and it needs to include both a rate and a total cost of that loan that you can check. Yes, the available tradeoffs between rate and cost vary every day, but the longer you go between pricing and submission, the more opportunity there is for change. I'm a lot more comfortable with lender's letters where the quoted loans priced with low to no points (if not a zero cost loan). Why? Simply because there is wiggle room on the quote. If rates go up a quarter of a point for the same rate tomorrow, or a week from now, the buyer can quite likely still make it work - particularly if they're not pledged right up to the limit of their available assets. Similarly, I like to see a lender letter that's built some wiggle room into the cash to close. It's the difference between a very qualified buyer who can still make the transaction happen if rates go up a bit or costs are slightly higher, and a marginally qualified buyer who is going to crash and burn if any little obstacle comes up (If the buyer was lowballed on their mortgage quote to use one all but universal example), or at least need the seller to bail them out with further concessions. If the loan officer who wrote the lender letter shows the work, it helps you know the difference between these two very different buyers, as well as between them and the completely unqualified bozo. It can be worth the risk of dealing with the marginally qualified buyer if you are getting a particularly good price and have the money to lose if the transaction falls apart, but it shouldn't be any surprise that the solidly qualified buyer is in a stronger bargaining position and likely to get a better price, thereby giving that solidly qualified buyer a reason to want to show all of this, demonstrating what a strong qualified buyer they are and what a strong offer they are making. Depending upon the seller's financial position, in San Diego this can be worth ten thousand dollars or more on the sales price of an average home!

I have shown that both the buyer and the seller are better off with a solid lender's letter that takes the cash and the income necessary to fund that loan and compares them in concrete numerical terms with the buyer's financial resources and liabilities. These aren't the only questions possible, and therefore the need for loan officer contact information. I call the loan officer on every single lender letter I get and ask questions - does this buyer own investment property being particularly important right now. If they're claiming something I don't believe can be done, I'm going to ask what lender is willing to fund that loan and then check if such a program exists to actually do so - and either I learn something new about the current loan market or I prevent my seller client from accepting an offer that cannot be consummated.

The important thing is concrete information being attested to, that allows any other person who knows enough about loans to retrace the work and verify whether a loan can be done under current conditions. If the agent can do it, great - agents should know enough about loans to do so! Even if they don't, any loan officer should be able to do the work. The identity of who wrote the letter is trivial - a distraction dreamed up by agents who are incompetent to judge, looking for kickbacks, or both. I prefer a letter with the required information from any loan officer that I don't know to be a complete and utter bozo, and even then, I have the information they are using to make that determination, which is one hell of a lot stronger than reputation or lack thereof. The critical information is specific concrete numbers about the buyer's situation that enable anyone who knows loans to make an informed decision as to whether this loan is doable, not whose signature is on it, or which letterhead it's printed on. When I make a recommendation to accept an offer or even just pass it along without a recommendation against, I am telling my seller that I have a reasonable basis to believe that this potential buyer has the wherewithal to make it happen. If I'm not doing the necessary due diligence before I do that, I have failed in my fiduciary duty - and that means knowing the difference between what is important and what is not. Having all the numbers for me or another loan officer to trace and check the work is important. The identity of who wrote the letter is not.

Caveat Emptor

P.S. If you're looking for an example of a good lender letter, you could do worse than The Qualification Letter I Use

Original article here

On a very regular basis, pretty much every buyer's agent who's worth anything gets clients who have difficulty making a decision. Not too long ago, I found a solid property with great potential that nonetheless needed about $20,000 of cosmetic work. In short, right now it was ugly and unappealing, but it had a WOW! view and it was priced $100,000 below a model match a few doors down. They looked at the property five times over the course of a month, and just as I finally had them willing to make an offer, somebody else put in an offer that was accepted.

Immediately, the property went from something they were reluctantly willing to consider living in to something they had to have, but at that point it was too late. The owners were already under contract. Unless the transaction fell apart - and it didn't - there was nothing anyone could do. Real estate needs one willing seller and one willing buyer. If someone else gets there first, you don't get the property. The seller's side has its own version - whomever competes the best for a given buyer wins. There are no prizes for second place.

There is no such thing as a perfect property. Unless you have an unlimited budget - and no one has an unlimited budget - there are always trade-offs. Trade-offs in the form of location, or amenities, or most obviously, price. You've probably heard trite little sayings like "paralysis through analysis" and the pithy "you snooze, you lose." They're trite because they're true. You must be willing to act when things aren't perfect in order to get any benefit. If you aren't willing to act in a timely fashion, you get nothing. The better the situation, the more risk there is of someone jumping in before you. Yes, sometimes this means you're at risk of being conned. There is no way to completely eliminate that risk. If you're only willing to jump into the perfect situation when all risk has been eliminated, you are wasting your time. Somebody else is going to jump first. The only way you're even going to buy - or sell - anything in those circumstances is if you're the victim of a scam. Reward is necessarily coupled with willingness to work and to accept risk. You can certainly work to reduce the risk, but there will always be an element of risk present. If you're not willing to accept any risk, welcome to the life of a spectator.

This isn't just my clients. Seems like every time I've taken something "Pending", I or whomever the listing agent is gets calls from people who are suddenly interested. I finished a transaction not too long ago where one suddenly interested buyer called the listing agent literally every day while it was in escrow. He was wasting his time. Once it's in escrow, you're too late. Unless it falls out, a thing that's not under your control, that property is committed to someone else. But it seems like the mere fact that someone wants it brings prospective buyers out of the woodwork, now that they can't have it. Kind of like sibling rivalry, only even more pointless because if it does fall out of escrow and become available again, you are sabotaging your negotiating position.

A few years ago now, I dealt with several families over the a few months who wanted to buy, but were convinced the market was heading down further. Fear and Greed was keeping them on the sidelines while the ratio of sellers to buyers has dropped from 42 to under 12. This ratio is the best measure of supply to demand ratio there is, and the most important indicator of the direction of the market. They are confusing past performance with market prognosis. Even during the most gonzo seller's market we've ever had, this ratio was about 4:1, and anything under about 12 or 15 to 1 indicates a seller's market. Furthermore, people who want to buy is building linearly with time, while the ranks of people who need to sell has already seen the strongest influx it's going to have, and the lenders are finally willing to act to prevent losing more money than they have to. On the buyers' side, everybody is crowding around, trying to get someone else to be the test penguin (1). On the seller's side, there is only so much desperation out there, and it appears that we've already burned through the vast majority, at least here in San Diego. Eventually, the buyers who are trying to get someone else to be the test penguin are going to realize that the people buying now are not getting eaten - in fact, just about the furthest thing from it - and they will jump in, en masse. (At this update, the biggest thing holding people out of the market is artificially restricted loan eligibility, due to Congress passing bad lending laws in 2008-10)

All real estate is only "good while supplies last." For sellers, this includes supplies of willing buyers. Since there is rarely more than one of property in a group, bargains only last until one person pulls the trigger. The easier the bargain to spot, the shorter the period to act. Even the hardest bargains to spot do not have an indefinite shelf life. Real estate is not like war, where if you don't attack the enemy, the enemy will attack you. So a bad plan now doesn't trump a perfect plan two weeks from now. But a good plan, acted upon in a timely fashion beats a perfect plan that waits just a little too long.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

(1) Penguins don't jump into the water immediately. Instead, they crowd around the entrance to the water, and avoid being the first in, due to the possible presence of predators. However, eventually one penguin gets pushed in by the others. If he doesn't get eaten, the other penguins quickly follow. It is to be noted that those positioned to respond quickly, and hence most likely to be shoved in as "test penguins" also have the best shot at whatever food may be present. And the predators are always drawn by a hot market which enhances the likelihoods of making large amounts of money.

It seems every week I get asked about some new or revived trick that loan providers are pulling. The one thing they all have in common is that they are methods to avoid competing on price. What the basic terms are and how much it will cost you.

The first big weapon in the arsenal of most bad loan providers is the tendency to most folks have to shop loans based upon payment. Payment has no intrinsic relationship to interest rate, which is what the money is really costing you. But if you do tell people "$510,000 loan for $1498 per month" most people assume that payment covers the loan charges even though it doesn't. People who can afford $1500 per month payments go buy $510,000 properties based upon these payments, and only after they've signed the papers do they figure out that the catch is their balance owed is increasing by $2500 per month! negative amortization loans are the obvious problem here, but less ethical loan providers also use this fact to push interest only loans and temporary buydowns and loans that cost so much in discount points that it would take fifteen years to recover the cost through lower payments - and that is based upon straight line computation, not taking into account the time value of money.

The second tool bad loan providers use is the desire of most folks to get something for nothing, or at least appear to get something for nothing. This covers not only Mortgage Accelerators, but also Prepayment penalties and biweekly payment schemes and even debt consolidation. They show you an actual method whereby you might hypothetically have your mortgage or debts paid off in a fraction of the time and without apparent discomfort or compromising your lifestyle if you fit their profile and stick with their program. The slight of hand here is two-fold. First, these are distractions, and if you examined competitive products, you can tack these allegedly neat features onto just about any loan or do it yourself, while they're acting like their programs are somehow unique when they're not. Second, these programs see the lion's share of the benefits at least five years out - when for all practical purposes, nobody sticks with the program that long. I lumped pre-payment penalties in here, because they are an often hidden charge that brings the lender more money down the line when you refinance before it expires, or immediately when they sell your loan on the secondary market, but they don't show up anywhere on the loan paperwork as a figure in dollars you are being charged. at the time you agree to the loan. Nonetheless, most folks who accept pre-payment penalties end up paying them, and they are real dollars you end up paying.

The third tool in their arsenal is: If the cost of something isn't explicitly disclosed, most people will assume it's zero. If there's not an actual dollar figure associated with something, many people think it's somehow free. Many loan providers feel no need to disclose escrow charges, or lenders title insurance, among others. They'll mark it "PFC" as if they don't know how much it's going to be. The net result, as I've said before, is that you end up thinking that "$2495 plus third party charges and two of these points things" is cheaper than the provider who tells you they're going to deliver the exact same loan for $6000 all told (on a $300,000, loan, you're looking at over $10,000 worth of charges from the provider who didn't quote a total figure in dollars. People gripe about "junk fees" when the costs are real, but they've been deliberately lowballed. There never was a chance that they would end up not paying those fees - and they're high dollar value fees - but by not associating a dollar figure with these fees, less than ethical providers are causing people to think they're either free or something comparatively small, like the $2 per tire waste disposal fee.

All of these tricks feed upon ignorance. Ignorance of what they are really doing, ignorance of how financial markets work. The fact of the matter is that nobody is going to do a loan for free. There's a hard line where it's not worth my while to do a loan - I'd rather spend the time doing something else. Same thing with every other provider in the known universe. For some providers it's more than others, while for other providers, it's less than average. Everyone wants to make more money for the same amount of work. Competing on price is not a way to get a high number of dollars per loan - so many loan providers will do everything in their power to avoid competing on price. But there really isn't any other reason to choose a loan, other than that it's offering the same terms at a better price. A loan is a loan is a loan, as long as it's on the same terms at the same price. It's not like one loan is a Jaguar while another is a Prius and a third is a Mustang, or one is a Craftsman while another is a Colonial and a third is a Cape Cod. The only intelligent reason to choose a more expensive loan is if there is some facet of your financial situation that means you don't qualify for the less expensive loan. Unless lenders pull a major policy change in the middle of your loan process (as happened at the end of January 2009 - luckily I didn't have anyone in process who was suddenly unable to qualify), your loan officer should know what those are, and quote you an appropriate loan that you can qualify for in the first place. Many don't, but they should.

Because they don't want to compete on price, loan providers have a long list of gimmicks and irrelevancies they use to sell loans. Whenever the consumers figure out the problems associated with one, they come up with another or start pushing something else that consumers in general have forgotten about. Comparatively few people will do the research necessary to test the real value of these gotcha loans. They seem to be afraid that if they investigate, the value will somehow disappear. In reality, the vast majority of these come-ons (especially the heavily advertised ones) have no value in the first place. The ones that really do have a value to the consumer will survive scrutiny.

There is no magic wand to make loans more affordable. Not in reality. There is a reason why the thirty year fixed rate loan is the standard for consumers and lenders, and why moving away from it carries costs or risks or both. There are many valid reasons to choose another loan such as a 5/1 hybrid ARM or a fifteen year loan, but they are based upon accepting risks or costs or reduced benefits in order to get a lower cost of money.

Loan providers that don't compete based upon price compete based upon hiding the gotcha!, or pretending it's not important. If you understand the gotcha! associated with a particular loan, and are fine with it, that's great. If you don't understand the gotcha! chances are that it's going to bite hard.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

My husband and I are currently in escrow with the sale of our home in California. Our buyers have been " difficult" to say the least. The buyers appraisal of our property came in $6,000 below the selling price which won't make a difference to their lender because the buyers are putting 50% down. Of course, they started threatening us saying, "you need to issue us a $6,000 credit since the appraisal came back $6,000 below our agreed upon price." We paid for a second appraisal through a company that was lender approved. The second appraisal came back $3,000 above the purchase price. We have 2 questions:

Is their lender required to accept or at least consider this second appraisal or can they simply disregard it?

If the buyers try to use the appraisal clause against us to get out of the deal, can we keep their earnest money since we have a documented appraisal showing a value of $3,000 above the agreed upon price on the contract?

Thank you for your insight and expertise.

There are three things to consider here: The contract, potential scams, and what's really important.

The standard purchase contract has two clauses directly relating to this question. The first is the loan contingency, the second is the appraisal contingency. The first isn't really a factor in your case, but it often is, as a failure to appraise for the purchase price can torpedo the loan if the down payment isn't very much. If these buyers needed anything close to the maximum loan to value ratio, that would be a dead contract as it's written because the lender isn't going to fund that loan. The second, more relevant clause in your case is the appraisal contingency. It states that the transaction, as negotiated, is contingent upon the property appraising for the official purchase price or higher. There's an argument to be made that your appraisal is enough to cancel that contingency, but in practice, appraisals can be had for inflated amounts quite easily. If the seller being able to obtain an appraisal for the sale price was the relevant condition, I'm not sure there would ever be a property that would fail to appraise for the purchase price or more. Spend $400 for your own appraisal and keep a $5000 deposit. Nice work if you can get it. Acting as a buyer's agent, I would never accept a seller's appraisal under any circumstances. This may be news to all of those who put "Appraised for $X!" in the listing, but there are too many ways to get an inflated appraisal. Point of fact, it's usually someone trying to justify a higher asking price than the market will support. It's never a reason for me to consider a property, and can be a reason why I shouldn't.

The real bottom line in the current market is now Home Valuation Code of Conduct - the buyer's lender orders the appraisal, and that's the value the loan is stuck with. Doesn't matter if it comes in $100,000 too low because the appraiser chose absolute B.S. comps - that's the appraisal you're both stuck with, at least with that lender.

To be fair, buyers can get low appraisals too, which leads us into the second subject: potential scams. You're in California. There just aren't many properties I'm aware of in California where $9000 difference is a major percentage of the selling price. If you were somewhere where the average house sells for $40,000, this would be cause for concern. Flipping for an extra 22 percent profit! But when the average property sells for $400,000, it's just too small an amount over too much of a major stumbling block to be worth scamming someone over. Not that it's an amount to be sneezed at, or impossible, but I just can't see someone running a scam for only 2.25% of the sales price. If this was a scam, I'd expect $30,000 or more in difference. This is too small a difference to be a likely scam in the real world.

Speaking of the real world, what's really important is your market. How many sellers per buyer, how long properties like yours are sitting in your area, what they're selling for when they do sell. Note that I didn't say what the asking price is. Any twit can put an asking price that's 20% too high on a property, and quite a few do - it's a great way to get listings from owners who don't know any better. It's called "buying a listing." The important data have to do with actual sales. Not pending sales, not the pipe dreams of "For Sale By Owner" properties, not what the model match next door is asking, but what they are actually selling for. Coin of the realm passing out of the buyer's hands. A willing buyer is a necessary component of every sale, just as a willing seller is. If you just want to list your property, you don't care about a willing buyer. If you actually want to sell, you absolutely have to have one.

The good news is that you appear to have one. The bad news is that they don't want to pay the amount on the contract any longer. Well, buyer's remorse strikes a lot of folks, but the stronger their buyer's agent, the more they're going to get that out of their system before they make an offer. On the flip side of that for sellers is that the stronger the buyer's agent, the more focused they are on value.

Against this situation, you've got to ask how likely it is you're going to find a better buyer soon enough such that you net more money off the sale. If the property is vacant and your carrying costs are $3500 per month, this buyer now will still net you more money than a different buyer who pays the amount on your appraisal three months from now. I only know the San Diego market, and if you're here, why am I not involved in the transaction? But no matter which way you decide, you're taking a risk. Some people will just take the money and run because they're unlikely to have their face rubbed in the fact that they were wrong - the property is sold and future offers are a waste of everyone's time - but that's a putrid way to make a multi-thousand dollar decision. Actually, it's not just a multi-thousand dollar decision. It's potentially the full value of the property and your credit rating as well for years if you default. If you've had a Notice of Default recorded on the property or something worse, they're being a lot nicer than some folks to only mess with you for $9000.

My point is this: There are potential upsides and downsides to every possible decision you can make in this situation. Can I tell you which way to jump? Not without more information. Will I tell you which way to jump? I don't risk my license and my livelihood for free. It's your agent's job to do that. If you're representing yourself, you've just run smack into one of the lesser reasons not to.

Matter of fact, whomever your agent is, the information you've provided draws a pathetic picture of their competence. There could be exculpatory information out there, but this is all basic, "hit the ball with the bat" level stuff that anyone who's been in the business three weeks should be able to deal with, and if they're that new, their supervising broker should have explained it to them, if their supervising broker had a clue themselves. If this transaction falls apart, go find an agent who knows what they're doing. Nor am I impressed with the buyer's agent from the information provided. When something goes wrong, telling the other side "you have to" is a good way to kill a transaction that can usually be saved. You don't have to do anything. You could tell them to take a long walk off a short pier. How smart it is depends upon factors I can't see from here. But this is why negotiation is the biggest factor in the game of real estate. Some folks won't, some folks can't, some folks just don't know how. They're going to suffer unless their agent does. Because all the preparation and work I do is wasted if I don't negotiate effectively. Any twit can say, "No," and quite a few do. They're hosing themselves if it's the wrong answer. The opposing fact is that the transaction doesn't start until you have an agreement, and if the other side believes they've been hosed, they can usually get out of it if they really want to.

They can get out of this one if they want to, and while you can be stubborn about the deposit, you'll probably lose in court. They have an appraisal contingency in the contract, and the appraisal came in lower than the purchase price, giving them the option of bailing out. Personally, I find an appraisal contingency on top of a loan contingency to be the sign of a weak offer from a buyer who is going to bail out at the first issue with the property - and no matter how much you love your property, there is no such thing as a perfect property. When I'm representing buyers, my job is to work on their behalf, but I am very willing to counsel them to waive either the loan contingency or the appraisal contingency, because as long as we have one of the two in effect, we can live with it, and it's a sign to better listing agents of a stronger offer that's more likely to close from a committed buyer.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Somebody asked, "What are my legal options when there's a change on a good faith estimate."

Short answer: Sign the documents or don't. Same thing with a Mortgage Loan Disclosure Statement here in California. Neither one means anything binding; that's why they call the one an estimate. Nonetheless, because there is a perception that they mean something, that people think the lenders are trying to disclose everything fully. The fact is that some are while others aren't, and there is no correlation with size of the lender, how well known they are, or even what the loan officer at the next desk over is doing.

The fact is that if the loan officer cannot persuade you to sign up with them, there is a guarantee that neither they nor their company will make anything. This creates an incentive to tell you whatever it takes to get you to sign up. Once signed up, most folks consider themselves committed or bound to that lender, and stop looking around.

But the only documents that mean anything, legally, all come at the end of the loan process. Note, Trust Deed, HUD-1. So you can see the motivation exists to pull a bait and switch, or more often just not to tell the whole truth. Nor will they point out the differences at closing from what you signed up for. That would get you upset to no good purpose, from their point of view. The fact is that a majority of borrowers don't take the time to spot the difference, and of those who do, some just don't understand how to spot the difference. Of those who do take the time, and do spot the difference, most will cave in and sign just to be done with the process, and of course there are those who are trying to purchase who won't get the property and will lose the deposit if they don't sign.

The fact is that these forms are estimates. They may or may not be accurate estimates. In some cases, the loan provider tells you about every single dollar you're going to need up front, in others they might as well be telling you the loan is going to be done for free at a rate two percent below any real loan out there. If they can't get you to sign up, they don't make anything, so the incentives are for them to over-promise and under-deliver. In other words, tell you about something better than what you'll end up with. The loan officers know what it's going to take to get the loan done - or they should know, anyway. But they often tell you a fairy tale that might as well begin "Once upon a time..." to make it seem like their loan is better than the competition, because if they can't get you to sign up, they don't make anything.

This has improved somewhat with the new 2010 Good Faith Estimate, but there are still enough loopholes that a loan provider who is so minded can drive a supertanker through them.

Now, the fact is that the vast majority of people out there go out shopping for loans in the wrong fashion. They find someone they think they can trust, because they are family, because they are the scoutmaster, or because they go to church with them. Exactly what type of loan will they deliver, and at what rate? With what costs? It is always a trade-off between rate and cost on any given loan type.

Even less likely to get a good rate at a decent cost are the people who do shop around, but won't give loan officers a chance to figure out what's really the best loan for them. The first group of people might stumble onto someone trustworthy who gives them a good loan at a reasonable rate for a reasonable cost; these people are going to fall for the biggest lie, because a loan officer can always tell you about a better loan than really exists and they are motivated to get you to sign up. They call around asking about the lowest rate or the lowest payment, and don't want to hear anything else out of the loan officer. They are going to get ripped off by whomever tells the most attractive lie.

The fact is that it's going to take a good, in depth conversation about your situation for a loan officer to figure out the best loan for you, and you want to have that conversation with at least three or four loan officers. Why? Because the first one could have told you exactly what they thought you wanted to hear. Ditto the second. Keep going until you hear a couple of different suggestions. Furthermore, once they've given you their suggestions, ask about the other suggestions you heard in the past. Don't shop by lowest payment quote; that's a good way to get stuck with an abomination like the so-called Option ARM or another loan type that you don't want. Don't shop by interest rate alone, because you'll get stuck with a loan that has six points and you'll never save enough money on the payments to recover those sunk costs. Shop by the trade-off between rate and cost, because there always is one.

At the end of the process, the lender has all the power. You need or want this loan, and they're the ones with it ready to go. In the case of a purchase, you've got a deposit you're going to lose and a home you wanted that you won't get if you don't sign the loan documents. If you sign the documents, you are stuck with the loan, that quite likely isn't on the terms you were originally told about. I pointedly did not say "promised" because the earlier forms are not promises unless somehow guaranteed, and with changes in the market it has become almost impossible to guarantee a quote.

One of the most important articles I have written is Questions You Should Ask Prospective Loan Providers, and the most important question in that list is "If I say I want this right now, will you personally guarantee this rate with those closing costs, and will you cover the difference (if any) between the quote and the actual final cost?" You won't get a flat "Yes." If you do get a flat "yes", they're making a promise on something that is not under their control, and I wouldn't trust it as far as I can throw an aircraft carrier. What you're hoping for is something like "Subject to full underwriting approval, yes we will guarantee this quote as to closing costs. Tradeoff between rate and the cost to get a rate changes every day, and we will discuss when to lock and the tradeoffs that are currently available once we have a loan commitment." This is a simple sentence that makes a specific guarantee subject to a reasonable condition, as loan officers never know if a prospective borrower is intentionally hiding or shading something at loan sign up. If you get a response full of nonsense about how long they have been in business, how they honor their commitments, or any such equivalent claptrap, then they are trying to buffalo you. None of the forms you get when you initially inquire about the loan is a loan commitment in any way, shape or form. I'd rather have a higher quote that was guaranteed than a lower one that wasn't, and I strongly suggest you adopt that attitude as well. For an illustration as to why: If the quote is guaranteed, there's no incentive to stick you with a rate an eighth of a percent higher so they can make a little more money - they're going to have to make it good. There's no incentive to pad the closing costs with junk, because they've got to turn right around and give it back to you. If I offered you a choice between two envelopes, one transparent where you can see the $100 bill (guaranteed), and the other one opaque where I told you there might be any amount from zero up to $110 in it (not guaranteed), which envelope would you choose? The same thing applies to loans. If they can't get you to sign up, they are guaranteed to make nothing, and this creates incentives to tell you about a better loan than they can really deliver.

So (if you can't find someone who guarantees their quotes) how do you force the loan provider to deliver the loan they told you about in the first place? You can't. I used to advise people to get a back-up loan, but once again changes in the loan industry have sabotaged this. It is no longer economically feasible for loan officers to do back up loans. On refinances, you may need to walk away and start over after two or three months of working on your loan. Unfortunately, on purchases you are pretty much stuck with the first loan provider you choose because there is a deadline on making the purchase happen. The power to control the transaction belongs with the consumer, but Congress and the major lenders making large campaign contributions have used the "loan crisis" as an opportunity to remove it from them.

The loan provider is going to make money, or they won't do your loan. Judge loans by the benefits and costs to you, not by how much they loan provider is making, or whether they even have to disclose it (brokers do, direct lenders do not). The important thing to you is that you were delivered a thirty year fixed rate loan at 6.5 percent without paying any points, as opposed to 6.625% with one point and higher costs, not that loan provider A had to tell you they made $4000 by doing it while loan provider B doesn't have to tell you anything. Sounds obvious, but I have seen people who chose the higher rate at more cost for the same loan, even stuck themselves with a prepayment penalty where my loan had none, because they thought I was making too much. In point of fact, I would have made a fraction of what the other guy did make, and by the only universal measure - delivering a loan with a lower rate, lower cost, or both - I performed work considerably more valuable to my client. So don't shoot yourself in the foot like that.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

Every so often I get questions about loan cosigners. The main borrowers do not qualify on their own, so they get someone - most often mom and dad - to cosign. Cosigners are a different thing, or so I understand, in the other major credit areas - automobiles, rent, etcetera. But this is about Real Estate.

The only time this usually makes a difference is in credit history. The main borrowers qualify on the basis of income, but don't have enough of a credit history to qualify. Sometimes they just don't have enough open credit to have a credit score. This is rare, but I did have one executive couple who made a habit of paying cash for everything (a good habit, I might add). They had precisely one open line of credit, a credit card they paid off every month, and the major bureaus require two lines in order to report a credit score. No credit score, no loan - it's that simple. Even there, the solution was to walk in to their credit union and apply for another, not to get a cosigner.

When you bring other folks into the loan, you're bringing their credit history, their potentially high payments, and every other negative they have into the loan. Most of the time, the folks who are willing to cosign do not materially aid the qualification process.

Pitfall number one: If the cosigners make more money than the "real" borrowers, they now become the primary borrower, and it becomes a loan on investment property as far as the lenders are concerned, adding restrictions, raising the trade-off between rate and costs of the loan, and perhaps making the loan require a larger down payment. This does assume they won't live there, but usually if they were going to live there, they would have been on the loan in the first place.

Pitfall number two: The cosigners are overextended also. Sure, they make $10,000 per month, but they have payments of $5000 per month already. There's nothing left over where the bank sees them as having enough money left over to help you out. They may, in fact, have money to spare, particularly if they make a lot of money, but according to the standard ratios, they do not. You can't have the cosigners be stated income or NINA if the main borrowers are full documentation. If you had to downgrade to stated income in order to qualify (back when stated income was available), that would cost a lot of money through higher rate/cost trade-off, not to mention requiring a larger down payment in most circumstances, going to a higher cost portfolio lender, whether you're in a line of work that's eligible for stated income under current guideline. Obviously, better that you qualify for a lesser loan than that you don't qualify at all, but you don't want to downgrade if you don't have to.

Pitfall number three: This one hits the cosigners. They are agreeing to be responsible for your payments in the event you don't make them. Suppose they want to borrow money for something else. Especially if it's a large amount of money, as real estate payments tend to be. It really cramps their ability to qualify for other things. This works the other way, also. People come to me for real estate loans who have agreed to be cosigners for a car loan are responsible for the $400 per month for that loan. Many times, this means they don't qualify for the real estate loan. So we have to prove to their prospective lenders that the "true" borrowers are making the payments. This is usually not difficult, but if the cosigners wrote the check for the payment anytime in the last six months to a year, it can be problematic.

Pitfall number four: This also hits the cosigners rather than the main borrowers. Suppose a payment gets made late. It impacts the credit of the cosigners as well as the "real" borrowers. It doesn't matter if you're the "real" borrower or the cosigner, it hurts your credit just as much and for just as long. If you cosign, you want some kind of proof that payment is being made on time, every month. You shouldn't cosign if you don't have the resources to make that payment pretty much indefinitely. Furthermore, should the cosigners decide to cut their losses, it can take months before the monthly hits to the credit stop. If the "real" borrowers don't want to liquidate, the cosigners may have to go to court to get out of it, and the only people who are happy there are the lawyers.

Finally suppose the loan being applied for has a Debt to Income Ratio maximum of forty five percent, and the cosigners make $10,000 per month, but they have expenses of $4300. This will mean that they only have $200 per month to contribute towards qualifying for the new loan. If the "real" borrowers weren't fairly close to qualifying without them, they aren't going to qualify with them. If they have expenses of $4600 per month, they have nothing to contribute to the loan qualification. In such cases, the work of asking them to cosign is wasted.

Caveat Emptor

Original here

An e-mail I got from a single mother I spent two months working with before she found a special low income program for a property she wouldn't have been able to afford through me. The first paragraph is her addition to me on the front of a forwarded message. I've redacted information that might lead to specific identification of the culprits or their victim.

(I haven't been paid anything on this, nor did I expect to be, despite the fact that they told her that I would be to close the deal. She felt obligated to me, but who wants to stand in the way of a single mom finding and affording a better property?).


Dan - This is an FYI. I really wouldn't recommend this program for any of your other clients, or if you do get them involved that you warn them that things stand a good chance of not going as promised. Judging by what is happening to me, I doubt that you ever received your commission from these people.

-----Original Message-----

Good Morning DELETED,

My name is DELETED and I've purchased a condo at DELETED. My close date was supposed to be June 28th. On June 28th I went to DELETED Title and signed off on all the final paperwork and had my bank wire them over $7,000.00. My first scheduled move-in date was on Friday, June 29th. I had to cancel (the move - DM) because it wasn't recorded yet. On Saturday, June 30th I drove over to the DELETED Sales office (my phone and internet has been shut off and transferred) and spoke with DELETED. My next scheduled move-in date was Monday, July 2nd from noon - 4 pm. I asked him if I had to change my plans again and he said "No - because you were supposed to close on the 28th of June and I can go online and see that you have wired your money and completed your paperwork I am going to make an exception and give you your key and let you move in on Monday."

Early Monday morning (we) started bringing all of our boxes and furniture downstairs. At 9 am I rented a U-haul. At 11:30 I went over to the Sales office for my key. I had scheduled someone to pickup and deliver the appliances I purchased for 12:30 pm. (The person who had promised the move in) was "in a meeting" and nobody seemed to know anything about my key. By 1 pm I was quite upset because I still had no answers and only 3 hours left to accomplish my move in.

DELETED sent someone down to try and make things right. I don't think a sobbing woman in their office was very good for business. They went over to the Uhaul place and had the truck reserved until Friday of this week and bought a lock for it. They told me that they would pay my rent and that I could get reimbursed for food if I kept the receipts. Hopefully they will really do this. (it occurred to me later that they also promised me a key and broke that promise) DELETED is calling DELETED (Title officer) twice a day for a status update and what they keep telling me is that the paperwork from the City has not yet been received.

Can you tell me if there is a reason for this and when I might expect this paperwork to be completed?

I'm in a bit of a panic now (to put it mildly) because I need to be out of the apartment so they can clean and paint it over the weekend. I have so little information, I don't know whether to put my things in storage, board my pets and get a hotel for my son and myself. This is also very stressful because most of my money is tied up in the condo and I'm bleeding what little money I have left....sleeping in an apartment on my couch and hoping that the truck on the street in front of my complex doesn't get ticketed or worse yet robbed. Hauling everything back up two flights of stairs was pretty much out of the question (For health reasons - DM).

I feel absolutely miserable. It would be quite ironic to wind up homeless after all this.

If you can shed any light on what is going on, or help me plan what to do next I would appreciate it. I'm really in the dark here.

My phone and internet are at the new place. I had been taking vacation time to move in, but I don't see the point now, so I'm back at work trying not to worry.

This is, unfortunately, not an atypical experience. Public program means you're on a bureaucratic schedule. It's not that bureaucrat's money that's getting spent. They don't get paid any different whether your loan funds and you get your property today, next week, or never.

Furthermore, it has been my experience that companies with the ability to use restricted provider public programs are often looking to boost their profit margin, and because the competition is restricted, they can often get it. That's one of the reason that FHA (among others) is looking to reduce their annual audit requirements, so that the small brokerages and those with thinner profit margins might be willing to sign up and endure the hassles. I've seen loan firms charge two extra points and over half a percent higher rate because the competition was mostly eliminated, and what was left was other high margin places. Special programs nobody else has are a license to print money, particularly if access to those programs is restricted by the government. The fewer providers who can do it, the less competition there is, and usually, the higher the mark up they want in order to for the privilege of being one of the lucky selected beneficiaries.

This is not to say that all public housing programs are difficult, or delayed, or costly. There are individual providers who provide just as good a product at just as good a price. However, the statistics seem to be a much higher than usual incidence of delays, costly extras, and just plain gouging going on due to restricted competition.

This is also not to say in any way, shape, or form that public programs aren't worth it. The lady could never have afforded this unit, part of an income restricted program, without a municipal government stepping up to the line on her behalf. Those with a knowledge of economics may realize that this means the other units were made more expensive due to this, likely pricing out other potential buyers so that this particular person could have a better unit. Robbing Peter (and Penny and Porgy and Poppy and pretty much everyone else) to pay Paul and the bureaucrats helping Paul, but that's a matter of housing policy supported by the voters, and my choice is to help Paul or not to help Paul. Peter, etcetera have already been robbed and they're not getting the money back. The bureaucrats will be paid exactly the same whether I help Paul or not. The only question will be exactly who gets this benefit, and I think that under the circumstances I might as well help Paul get them. And if Paul doesn't take it, somebody else will. From the perspective of a given individual's available options, such programs definitely assist people in affording housing superior to what they could otherwise afford.

However, you need to realize that there are likely to be delays and unexpected extras in a program like this. One of the requirements of many of these programs is a certain maximum amount of total assets - but if that's all you can have and you have to use some of them for down payment and closing costs, this can mean you're cutting it really tight as far as other expenses go. Indeed, on this scale, paying for an extra few weeks rent at your old place can be a real hardship - but that's the cold hard fact of what happens quite often. If you put in your thirty days notice to the landlord, you're stuck when escrow doesn't close on time. If you don't put in your thirty days to the landlord, you're stuck paying rent for the extra month, costing (in this case) a minimum of about 15% of her total liquid assets, never mind what was left over after what she put in her down payment.

There is no universal guide to this situation, and what works in some situations may be totally inappropriate in others. One of the best things is an elected ally in the bureaucrat's chain of command. Another is the willingness of a family member to step in with a gift or extend an interest free loan if you require it, because pretty much all of these first time buyer programs have income and asset limits, and if your cash falls short, everything you paid is pretty much wasted. You won't get the property, and you're unlikely to get that money back.

Anytime the government - city, county, state or federal - limits the providers who can work with a given program, they create a pricing differential between that program and the general market, as well as creating a situation where those providers have an assured income from people who don't have any other choice. Given this, the incentive to provide good competent quality work at a competitive price is pretty much absent, leading to situations such as this poor lady's. These programs all keep a list of their special participants, but sometimes there are ways for others to participate. It never hurts to ask, and it may very well prevent situations like this one.

Caveat Emptor (literally!)

Original article here


An email:


Hi Dan,

I was reading your article on "should you pay off your mortgage faster?" (DM: link here DELETED It'll be a fresh 30 year loan and I'm 44 years old so this discussion has interest, I don't really want to be making a mortgage payment at 74 ;).

I must be really dense but A: I don't get it and B: the table looks like it has an error in it to me.

Start with B: first - the investment column can't possible be correct. The assumption is you save or pre-pay $100 per month and invest at 8%. The amount for year 1 is $1,353.29, if you saved $100 per month at the end of a year you'd have $1,200 in principal + $100 * 12 months @ 8% + $200 * 11 months @ 8% + $300 * 10 months @ 8% etc. Even if you socked away the whole $1,200 on day 1 you'd only have $1,296 and have to pay taxes on $96.

What I don't get is this - by prepaying $100 on my mortgage I get a guaranteed return of 6% or 6.5%, whatever the mortgage rate is. I do not ever have to pay interest on that piece of principal again, it keeps on giving. Yes my payment stays the same but the amount going to principal increases by the amount of interest I am not paying due to the previous principal payment.

Now, the valid comparison to that is a risk free investment alternative no? I've got savings accounts currently yielding 4.5%, 5.3% and 5.4% APY, you might find 6% - might and it probably is an intro rate. Let's be generous and assume I can get the same rate of return on the savings as I pay on the mortgage and put that at 6%. If I pay $1,200 extra in principal on day 1 of the year I don't pay $72 in interest and can't deduct it. If instead I put $1,200 in a savings account on day 1 I earn that $72 in interest. It is a wash, The tax issue is a red herring since not paying the principal gives me a $72 interest deduction but the equal investment return is added to income so (72) + 72 = 0 Could it work out if you put the investment dollars at risk? Sure, but that is a gamble and an apples to oranges comparison.

I have different mental pots of money.

Pot 1 is investment dollars for retirement, 10% or so of income goes to a tax deferred account invested at various risk levels and doesn't get touched - ever. Until I retire at least!

Pot #2 home equity + the carrying cost on the mortgage which is the 25% or so of income that pays the PITI on the house.

Pot #3 is liquid reserves, currently about a years worth of #2's income requirements.

My goal is absolutely to eliminate the P&I part of PITI over time. With enough in pot #3 I'll be plowing as much as possible into principle reduction over the next few years once we get moved in and clear the costs associated with a new house such as drapes and furniture. I make a pretty decent salary but who knows how long that will last? As long as the job is secure I'll keep the current mortgage and pre-pay as much as possible. If a few years down the road I felt a little vulnerable to layoff or whatever I'd seriously consider refinancing the then smaller principle balance for a smaller required monthly nut and keep making the higher payments as long as the income stayed intact. Alternatively I may need to do that in 10 years anyway when my kid goes to College. What we are currently paying in private tuition from current income + available cash flow might be a bit short, or we may be ok - depends on where he goes. I'm a College administrator so if he goes here he gets a 100% tuition waiver, 50% at other state schools. And I did look at saving for College in one of the tax deferred accounts, we don't qualify for all the juicy ones based on family AGI. We could do a 529 but I've made the personal choice that we're better off driving the retirement savings and paying off the mortgage rather than killing ourselves to give the kid a free ride .

I like a guaranteed 6.5% return. With any luck the house will get worth more over time as well making the return even better. I played leverage to the max in 1999 when I bought a townhouse for 78K by assuming a mortgage, I just sold it 2 months ago and cleared $112K cash in my pocket, principle balance was 64K so 14K of the 112K was return of my principle payments. That was great but now we're in a little better position financially and I'd like to preserve it over time. I've owed huge piles of money to CC companies and auto loans in the past - don't ever want to go there again!

One other thought. Despite the current turmoil in the market houses do tend to be worth more over time. Probably not as good as the stock market if the time horizon is long enough but they do go up. In my case 60% of the asset value is borrowed so there is a leverage factor on the return. Here is the thought - under current tax rules that return is tax free where as the stock market return is not. It's all about risk tolerance I guess.

Upon examination, I think you're probably right, although I have assumed "a start of the month/year" program where the question was academic until you actually had some money to put to one place or the other; i.e. an initial $100 today and $100 every month, so a year from today you've got $1300 without interest. Kind of like the old problem where if you've got an eighty one foot wall and beams every nine feet, you need ten beams to have a real structure. One to start (at the zero point), and then another one every nine feet.

The pots of money idea is a good one, but most people shouldn't be limited themselves to theoretically risk free investments, especially once you've got your reserves. 1) They're not risk free 2) The big certainty if you don't take any risk is that you will make less than someone who did. Kind of like being chased by headhunters, and having a choice to sit there and be killed an eaten immediately or jump off a cliff into a river with crocodiles. Sure, the crocodiles might get you, or you might hit the rocks when you land and you might even drown. But if you do nothing, you're going in the stew-pot for certain.

Question: How do you think the bank or insurance company can afford to pay a return on the money? It doesn't come out of some hyperspatial vortex! They take this money and invest it in basically the same places you would. The difference is: They take the risk, they get the reward. This reward is plenty to pay their employee salaries, all the expenses of operating, plus your little pittance, and have plenty left over for the stockholders. If their results are adverse, what's going to happen to your money?

Question: If you never refinance, how hard do you think it's going to be to make a $1500 payment in thirty years? Assuming a 3.5% rate of inflation, about like paying $530 per month now. Shouldn't be difficult at all. If you do refinance, you are making a conscious choice that the other loan is, in total, a better deal for you. Sure you might not have a lot of income after retirement. My point is that with time and diversification, the assets you would accumulate from alternative investments will be more able to pay your loan out of interest than any money you saved.

Question: If you can't make the low payment, what will your equity situation be like? Once again, this is assuming you never refinance, but 29 years out, you'll owe roughly $15,000, and assuming average 5% appreciation, the property will be worth about 4.3 times as much. Even if you never paid a penny of principal down, that's well over a million in equity. This gives you options such as selling (take the money and run), a RAM (take the money and stay - which I generally advise against), a move "down market", etcetera. Stop thinking of money as something that pays the rent and other expenses, and start thinking in terms of what it can do.

Furthermore, it's not a risk free 6.5%. For most people, it's more like an effective margin of 4.7% or less. I'm not advising anyone to go out and strip equity without a very strong reason to do so so and a clear eye on potential consequences, but which after tax return sounds better to you: 4.7% or 7.2%? I agree with the NASD rule that prohibits member firms from accepting borrowed money for investments, but I have to admit that it does work, at least for the "average over time" numbers in theory. The 7.2% assumes investment income is all ordinary income, fully taxed every year. In point of fact, at least some is likely to be capital gains and some is likely to be deferred. The downside is that any investment return is purely speculative and you could lose your principal. You don't ever gamble with money you can't afford to lose, no matter what the long term odds. Nor do you put it all on the same bet, no matter how you split it up. On the other hand, the biggest risk is not taking any. Instead of paying off your mortgage, diversifying your money amongst a sufficient number of stock and bond investments is so likely to leave you with so much more in total net assets over the next twenty years that the expected exceptions are a statistical non-event.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Hi, my name is DELETED, I need help. I bought a house (a few months ago) because my boyfriend persuaded me to. This was supposed to be a real estate investment between us. I put the house in my name and i was supposed to get $9000 and he was gonna keep the rest to do the repairs. I never received my money and he never did the repairs on the house and we ended up breaking up (about a week later). I started getting suspicious, (a few days ago) I found out that the appraiser lied on the appraisal. He lied and changed the square footage of one of the comparable houses to make around the same square footage of my house showing that it sold for the same price I brought my house. There is more to make me think he lied. I found out that the mortgage person, the seller, my ex and the appraiser all know each other I think it was a set up. I have a lawyer, but what can happened after the loan is already in my name. This house is not worth what I bought it for he appraised it around $50,000 more. Will the mortgage company have to buy the house back because they are supposed to check it. When I looked up the appraisal company that he had on the appraisal, it doesn't even exist. Please give me some advise, will I be stuck with this house?
Based upon this information, I'd say you were most likely the victim of a scam. They over-inflated the value of the house, took the extra money, and left you owing everything the house was worth and more.

Talk to your lawyer. It sounds like you've probably got a good case for a civil suit, and can make criminal complaints as well for fraud and conspiracy. However, you have title to the house and a Note that says, "I agree to pay..." and a Trust Deed securing said Note. Just because you are the victim of a scam does not relieve you of your obligations under said Note and Deed of Trust. Not living up to those obligations is one of the best ways I know to make a bad situation worse. It's going to take a while - probably years - before you recover anything of what you've been taken for, if you ever get it. The wheels of justice grind slowly, and require a lot of lubrication in the form of money. Just because you're the victim doesn't change the process. It's conceivable that your lawyer may even advise you to let it go, if in their judgment you're unlikely to recover enough to make it worth your while.

Before we get into the main issue, let me cover a special red flag that was ignored. When you are buying a house, you are not going to get cash back - not with the approval of the lender. As I went over in Real Estate Sellers Giving A Buyer Cash Back, concealing something material from the lender is fraud, in and of itself.

Lots of people get talked into cutting corners in their transaction or doing without an agent because "agents don't really do anything." However, there are so many scams out there that any time you cut corners you risk getting taken for the full amount of the transaction. Lots of folks discount the possibility - until it happens to them. And it does happen. Real estate is the largest dollar value most folks ever get involved in, and scamming a little extra is likely to be major money in and of itself. A certain percentage of all transactions have issues - and when someone tries to talk you into short-circuiting your protections, that's pretty much a red flag that this is one of those transactions to beware.

Not falling victim is worth a lot more than those protections cost you. As a buyer's agent, my goal is to make at least a ten percent difference in the quality of property, the price, or some combination. I haven't missed that mark yet; and in some markets my average is closer to 35 percent. But that's in addition to preventing things like what happened to you. Having an agent gives you someone responsible to you. Someone you can sue if something goes wrong, so they have incentive to guard your interests. Someone with insurance (deep pockets!) and a license and a broker supervisor who should have monitored the situation. Not to mention who should be able to prevent the situation happening in the first place.

Can you stop collusion between the appraiser, the loan officer, and the seller? No. Stopping collusion is difficult, as anyone who has ever studied accounting can tell you. A lot of the curriculum goes into the subject of controls, and separating functions so that it's only with multiple people cooperating that assets get embezzled. But with an agent who knows your market on your side and bound to you, it's a lot less likely they'll get away with it. How likely would you have been to buy the property for the price you did if an agent had said, "I can get you a better property for the same money" (or something like it for less)? Kind of likely to short-circuit the entire scam, eh?

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

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