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Buyer & Seller Info

Tips for Buyers

Use a Buyer's Agent+

It's important that you choose an experienced agent who is there for you. Your agent should be actively finding you potential homes, keeping you informed of the entire process, negotiating furiously on your behalf, and answering all of your questions with competence and speed.

First, find an agent who represents you and not the seller. This is beneficial during the negotiation process. If you are working with a buyer's agent, he or she is required not to tell the seller of your top choice. In addition, he or she is also focused on getting you the lowest asking price.

Also, when you use a buyer's agent, you will see more properties. Not only are they plugged into their Multiple Listing Service, but also they are actively finding homes that are listed as FSBO, or homes that sellers are thinking about listing.

Why You Should Not Make Any Major Credit Purchases+

Don't go on a spending spree using credit if you are thinking about buying a home, or in the process of buying a new home. Your mortgage pre-approval is subject to a final evaluation of your financial situation.

Every $100 you pay per month on a credit payment could cost you about $10,000 in home eligibility. For example, a car payment of $300/month could mean that you qualify for $30,000 less in a mortgage.

Even if you have accumulated enough savings, you should consider not making any large purchases until after closing. The last thing you want is to know that you could have purchased a new home had you curbed the urge to spend.

Getting a Legitimate Lender and Getting Pre-Approved+

It used to be that buyers could go house shopping and when they have found their dream home, then they go to get pre-approved. However, in today's market, that has proven to be one of the least effective methods in landing the dream home.

Most lenders can pre-qualify you for a mortgage over the phone. Based on general questions about your income, debt, assets, and credit history, lenders can estimate how much mortgage you qualify for. However, being pre-qualified and pre-approved are different things. Pre-approval means that you have applied for a mortgage; you have filled out the mortgage application, received your credit report, and verified your employment, assets, etc. When you are pre-approved, you know exactly what the maximum loan amount will be.

A pre-qualified letter is not verified and in essence, does not count for much if you are competing with other buyers who are pre-approved. When you are pre-approved, you and the seller know exactly how much house you can afford. It gives you credibility as an interested buyer and lets the seller know immediately that you will qualify for a loan to buy their property.

In addition to being pre-approved, it's important to be pre-approved with a legitimate lender. Legitimate lenders include: banks, mortgage bankers, credit unions, savings and loan associations, mortgage brokers, and online lenders.

Some lenders to avoid: those who lose a form or misplace a file, those who gather information from you in an unorganized manner, those who are not informed about interest rates, points or costs, and those who cannot provide you with the right information.

Finding the Right Seller+

The best seller is one who is highly motivated. A highly motivated seller is more likely to sell for less than his or her house is worth. And it matters that you find out why; learning the reason why can help you get the price you want and help the seller get what they want: a timely sale.

When given the opportunity to meet with sellers, ask them why they are selling. The reasons could be anything from job change to a new location to financial problems. If you can solve their problem, whether it is cash related or time related, do so. For example, if the sellers are highly motivated because they need to move quickly, give them a fast sale - and a lower price. If you can make an offer, even a low one, that gives them cash in a short time, they are more likely to accept.

There are also some sellers that you should avoid. Not every seller is as genuinely motivated as they make themselves to be. Some possible hints:

  • They stall on having the home appraised or inspected
  • Is unable to clear up liens against their property
  • Does not own 100% of their property
  • They push back the move-out date
  • Does not have a replacement property or back up plan
  • etc. etc. etc.

It is impossible to find the perfect seller. But it is possible to find out which sellers are legit, and which ones aren't.

Build a Plan of Action and Get Ready+

Buying a home will probably rank as one of the biggest personal investments one can make. Being organized and in control will contribute significantly to getting the best home deal possible with the least amount of stress. It's important to anticipate the steps required to successfully achieve your housing goal and to build a plan of action that gets you there.

Before you can build a plan of action, take the time to lay the groundwork for your decision-making process.

First, ask yourself how much can you afford to pay for a home. If you're not sure on the price range, find a lender and get preapproved. Preapproval will let you know how much you can afford so that you can look for homes in your price range. Getting pre-approved helps you to alleviate some of the anxieties that come with home buying. You know exactly what you qualify for and at what rate, you know how large your monthly mortgage payments will be, and you know how much you will have for a down payment. Once you are pre-approved, you avoid the frustration of finding homes that you think are perfect, but are not in your price range.

Second, ask yourself where you want to live and what is the best location for you and/or your family. Things to consider:

  • Convenience for all family members
  • Proximity to work, school
  • Crime rate of neighborhood
  • Local transportation
  • Types of homes in neighborhood, for example condos, town homes, co-ops, newly constructed homes etc.

Hot, Normal, and Cold Markets+

Hot Market

This is an extremely competitive market, one that is advantageous to the seller. Sometimes, homes will sell as soon as they are listed or even before homes are listed. Typically, during a hot market, multiple offers will be made on each home and more often than not, homes will sell for more than their asking price. It is even more crucial to be prepared and to be ready as a buyer when the market is hot. It can be easy to get caught up in the bid for a home, but if you are prepared (pre-approved, solid in price range, realistic about your needs), it is easier to remain focused on your housing needs and price range.

Normal Marke

In a normal market, there is fairly a large number of homes available and an average number of buyers. This market does not necessarily favor the buyer or the seller. A seller may not have as many offers on their home, but he or she may not be desperate to sell either. Again, it is the buyer's responsibility to be prepared. During a normal market, the chances to negotiate are higher than in a hot market. As a buyer, you can expect to make offers at lower than the asking price and negotiate a price at least somewhat less than what the sellers are asking.

Cold Market

In a cold market, houses may be listed for more than a year and the prices of houses listed may drop considerably. This market is advantageous to the buyer. As a buyer, you have the time to make an offer that works to your best interest. It is not uncommon to low-ball and to find that sellers are accommodating to meet your needs. Keep in mind that even though this market is a great time for buyers, you do not want to lose your dream home by being unrealistic. Your goal is to get your dream home at the best possible price.

Importance of Inspection+

As a buyer, you are entitled to know exactly what you are getting. Don't take for granted what you see and what the seller or the listing agent tells you. A professional home inspection is something you MUST do, whether you are buying an existing home or a new one. An inspection is an opportunity to have an expert look closely at the property you are considering purchasing and getting both an oral and written opinion as to its condition.

Beforehand, make sure the report will be done by a professional organization, such as a local trade organization or a national trade organization such as ASHI (American Society of Home Inspection). Not only should you never skip an inspection, but also you should go along with the inspector during inspection. This gives you a chance to ask questions about the property and get answers that are not biased. In addition, the oral comments are typically more revealing and detailed than what you will find on the written report. Once the inspection is complete, review the inspection report carefully.

You have to demand an inspection when you present your offer. It must be written in as a contingency; if you do not approve the inspection report, then you don't buy. Most real estate contracts automatically provide an inspection contingency.

Avoiding Financial Stress+

By asking the right questions, and knowing exactly what your needs are, you can find the right loan for you. There are certain approaches that you can take while mortgage shopping that can cost or save you money.

It is still true that the better qualifications you have, the lower your interest rate will be. However, there are mortgages available for almost everyone; it's the interest rates or the down payments that vary.

Before speaking with a lender, know what monthly dollar amount you feel comfortable committing to. Then when you discuss mortgage pre-approval with your lender, it is easier for you to determine the monthly amount and what value of home the monthly amount translates into. Do not put yourself in the position where you will be paying more each month than you intended simply because the "dream" house requires it.

Do your research on the types of mortgages available to you and find the one that best suits your needs. There are a number of considerations to be made in terms of finding the best mortgage for each individual:

  • What type of market are you in? Are the interest rates falling or rising?
  • Do you want a fixed mortgage rate, where you will always know what your payment is going to be?
  • What are your long-term goals? Do you intend to resell the property? Do you only need the mortgage for a short time?

Tips for Sellers

Getting the Highest Price in the Shortest Time+

In order to get the highest price in the shortest time, you need to know how to market your home. The better you market your home, the more offers you will get. And the more offers you get, the more choices you have to get the price and terms you want.

The most important factor of marketing your home is pricing it right. Your price should be adjusted to reflect the market, and the property's worth. The key is to get many people checking out your property at a fair price instead of having no buyers because your price is set too high.

Another important factor is the condition of your home. Make sure that your home looks ready to be sold. Fix any defects (peeling or faded paint, cracks, stains, etc.) Condition alone can sometimes prompt fast buying decisions. Not only should you fix any defects, but consider upgrading your home by making major repairs and cosmetic improvements before selling. A nice looking home triggers the emotional response that can lead to a financial response.

Learn how to negotiate the best terms for all parties involved. Terms are another factor which may be adjusted to attract buyers. If you insist on getting your asking price, think of what you can offer to the buyers, for example, improvements you've made, or even offering seller financing at a lower than market interest rate on a portion of the sale price. Convince them why they should be paying the price you have set.

Lastly, get the buzz out about your home. List your house with a hot agent that ensures your house is listed on the MLS and on the Internet. On your own, get the word out. It should be visible to passerby’s that your house if for sale, whether it be signs, local advertisements or you telling friends, family, and acquaintances.

Making a Good First Impression+

If you want buyers to be interested in your home, you need to show it in its best light. A good first impression can influence a buyer into making an offer; it influences a buyer emotionally and visually. In addition, what the buyer first sees is what they think of when they consider the asking price.

A bad first impression can dissuade a potential buyer. Don't show your property until it's all fixed up. You do not want to give buyers the chance to use the negative first impression they have as means of negotiation.

Ask around for the opinions others have of your home. Real estate agents who see houses everyday can give solid advice on what needs to be done. Consider what architects or landscape designers have to say. What you need are objective opinions, and it's sometimes hard to separate the personal and emotional ties you have for the home from the property itself.

Typically, there are some general fix ups that need to be done both outside and on the inside. As a seller, you should consider the following:

  • Landscaping - Has the front yard been maintained? Are areas of the house visible to the street in good condition?
  • Cleaning or Redoing the driveway - Is your driveway cluttered with toys, tools, trash etc.?
  • Painting - Does both the exterior and the interior look like they have been well taken care of?
  • Carpeting - Does the carpet have stains? Or does the carpet look old and dirty?

Know Why You are Selling+

If you know exactly why you are selling, then it is easier for you to set the right plan of action to get what it is that you want.

If you are a seller who needs to close a sale as quickly as possible, then you should know that getting the highest price possible is not one of your priorities. It does not mean that you won't or cannot get the highest price, but it means that the price is not the deciding factor. A buyer who can give you a quick closing time will appeal much more to you than a buyer who can offer you more money but the negotiation and closing time drag on.

It's always good to know how low you will go, in terms of selling price. This will help to eliminate some of the offers that you find simply offensive or ridiculous. Even though you should consider all offers seriously and take into consideration the terms of each offer, sometimes, if you know the bottom line and are strict about it, you can save yourself time.

Once you know what your limits and reasons are, discuss them with your agent so that they can help you set your goals realistically. If you decide to list your home on your own, make sure you do research on the current market, and you get the proper advice you need in terms of legal issues, etc. The key is to be realistic and to know what your goals are so that they can be met.

Setting the Price+

The price is the first thing buyers notice about your property. If you set your price too high, then the chance of alienating buyers is higher. You want your house to be taken seriously, and the asking price reflects how serious you are about selling your home.

Several factors will contribute to your final decision. First, you should compare your house to others that are in the market. If you use an agent, he/she will provide you with a CMA. The CMA will reflect the following:

  • Houses in your price range and area sold within the last half-year
  • Asking and selling prices of houses
  • Current inventory of houses on the market
  • Features of each house on the market

From the CMA, you will find out the difference between the asking price and selling price for all homes sold, the condition of the market, and other houses comparable to yours.

Also, try to find out what types of houses are selling and see if it applies to your area. Buyers follow trends, and these trends can help you set your price.

Always be realistic. And understand and set your price to reflect the current market situation.

Plan of Action+

  1. Analyze why you are selling - If you understand your motives, you will be able to better negotiate and to get what it is that you want, whether it be a quick sale, high price, or somewhere in the middle. 
  2. Prepare your home for the buyer - Maximize the strengths of your property and fix up it's weaknesses. You want the buyer to walk away from your home with a lasting good impression. 
  3. Find a good real estate agent that understands your needs - Make sure that your agent is loyal to you, and can negotiate to help you achieve your goals. In addition, they should be assertive and honest with both you and the buyer.
  4. Be prepared for negotiation - Learn and understand your buyer's situation; what are their motives? Can you demand a big deposit from them? Try to lock in the buyer so that the deal goes through. 
  5. Negotiate for the best price and the best terms - Learn how to counter offer to get more from every offer. 
  6. Make sure the contract is complete - Be honest with your disclosures; you do not want to lose the deal because you were lying or diminishing your home's defects. Insist the buyers get a professional inspection. This will protect both you and the buyer.

Finding the Right Agent+

Not all agents work the same way. The most important attribute of an agent is that he/she is well connected to the real estate industry. He/she should know the market and provide information on past sales, current listings, his or her marketing plan, and at least 4 solid references. In addition, you also want to look for an agent that is honest, assertive, and one that best understands your needs.

Try to go with a local agent. They can better serve your needs; they are familiar with what the local market condition is, the local prices are, and what's hot or not in your community.

Considering Offers+

When reading an offer, keep in mind that you are out to get the best price AND the best terms for you. If you focus solely on the price, you may overlook terms that could be favorable to you as a buyer.

Some terms that may work in your favor:

  • Higher-than-market-interest in a second mortgage for your home
  • The buyer will pay for most or all of the closing costs
  • The buyer will take care of any repairs
  • Quick close - the buyer is pre-approved and ready to close in a time that best suits you
  • All-cash deal

When reading through offers, remember to look at the whole package. Take the time that you need to assess what is being offered and if it meets your needs.

Insist on a Home Inspection+

A professional home inspection protects both you and the buyer. It allows both you and the buyer the opportunity to learn about the property's defects.

A home inspection usually covers the following:

  • Plumbing conditions - if there is leakage or clogging
  • Roofing conditions - the extent of deterioration, if there is leakage
  • Electrical conditions - if there are inadequate circuits or potential fire hazards
  • Structural problems - if there are problems with the underlying foundation of your home

As a seller, the home inspection reports protect you because it establishes the actual condition of the property at the time of sale.

Homeowner Information

Environmental Issues+

When purchasing a piece of property, it is important to be aware of any environmental liabilities associated with it. For example, you should find out if there are any registered underground tanks within several miles of the property, any known contaminated properties in the neighborhood, or any property owners who have been fined by the government for failing to meet environmental safety standards.

Before, it took a costly site investigation for the information, but now there are online environmental databases available at a fraction of the cost. Anyone can access reports on otherwise hard to detect environmental issues. With these databases, it is possible to obtain a listing of hazards near a property, or spills and violations attributed to businesses nearby.

Some reputable databases include VISTA Information Systems, located in San Diego, California, which allows you to register and search the data bank for free, and E Data Resources, which is located in Southport, Connecticut. These services are all relatively inexpensive, but can provide you with priceless information that is useful before you make a purchase.

Lead Poisoning+

Lead poisoning is a serious problem which can lead to adverse health problems. In children, high levels of lead can cause damage to the brain and nervous system, behavioral and learning problems, slow growth, and hearing problems. In adults, lead poisoning can cause reproductive problems, high blood pressure, digestive problems, nerve disorder, memory and concentration problems, and muscle and joint pain.

Lead poisoning is especially a problem in cities with older buildings. Typically, lead is present in the paint from older buildings, in the water supply, and in the environment from cars and buses. Preventing lead poisoning in large cities, where there is so much possibility for exposure is both difficult and expensive. Federal programs have attempted to address this problem.

For buyers and sellers, lead poisoning is also an issue. Houses that were built before 1978 probably have paint that contains lead. Federal law requires that sellers disclose known information on lead-base paint hazards before selling a house. Sales contracts must include a federal form about lead-based paint in the building. Buyers will have up to 10 days to check for lead hazards and are likely to stipulate corrections.

Radon+

Radon is a colorless and odorless radioactive gas that has been estimated to cause 5,000 to 20,000 lung cancer deaths yearly. It is second only to smoking as a cause of lung cancer. It has been estimated that nearly 1 out of every 15 homes in the US has elevated radon levels.

Radon is produced when small amounts of uranium and radium in soil and rocks decay. Radon gas will also decay into smaller and radioactive particles that can be inhaled into the lungs where it can damage cells and cause lung cancer.

Radon is mainly released from soil, water and natural gas which have already been exposed to radon, from solar-heating systems that use radon-emitting rocks, and from uranium or phosphate mine tailings. Radon is naturally released in low concentrations, but inside your house, radon gas can become more concentrated. Lack of ventilation exhaust fans that bring in air from outside can increase the amount of radon in your home.

The Environmental Protection Agency suggests that homes be tested for radon, which should have a radon level of 4 picocuries per liter or less. For people selling their homes, the EPA recommends that the house be tested for radon, and radon levels be reduced, if necessary. Radon levels can be reduced by increasing the airflow into the house, keeping the vents open year round, and discouraging smoking in the house. For people buying homes, the EPA recommends obtaining radon test results in addition to information about radon reduction systems.

If you are planning to have your home tested for radon, the EPA recommends that the test be conducted in the lowest level of the home that is suitable for occupancy, and you should make sure that the test is done correctly by following the EPA Test Checklist.

There are two different types of testing devices available: passive devices and active devices. Passive devices, such as charcoal canisters, alpha track detectors, and charcoal liquid scintillation devices are exposed to air in the home for a specified amount of time, and sent to a laboratory to be analyzed. Active devices, like continuous radon monitors and continuous working level monitors, continuously measure and record the amount of radon in the air, and require operation by trained testers. These tests can be performed over a long term, or a short term, with the long term tests by active devices considered to be more accurate.

Underground Heating Oil Tanks+

Underground heating oil tanks can pose many potential problems to both home buyers and sellers. They have been the source of many environmental problems such as contamination of surrounding soil and ground water.

Leaks are caused by the rust inside underground tanks, or by an electrical condition sparked by electric utility lines.

Buyers should have the tank inspected to make sure that it is structurally sound. Buyers who do not want an underground fuel tank can arrange for an above ground tank to be installed in the basement, an underground tank to be shut off. Cleanups of any leaks will also have to be taken care of.

For buyers, the underground heating oil tank should be written in the sales contract. For sellers, your lawyer should make sure that the description and condition of the underground heating oil is accurate and up-to-date.

Common Ways of Holding Title+

How Should I Take Ownership of the Property I am Buying?

Real property has become increasingly more valuable and the question of how parties can take ownership of their property has gained greater importance. The form of ownership taken -- the vesting of title -- will determine who may sign various documents involving the property and future rights of the parties to the transaction. These rights involve such matters as: real property taxes, income taxes, inheritance and gift taxes, transferability of title and exposure to creditor's claims. Also, how title is vested can have significant probate implications in the event of death.

The Land Title Association (LTA) advises those purchasing real property to give careful consideration to the manner in which title will be held. Buyers may wish to consult legal counsel to determine the most advantageous form of ownership for their particular situation, especially in cases of multiple owners of a single property.

The LTA has provided the following definitions of common vestings as an informational overview. Consumers should not rely on these as legal definitions. The Association urges real property purchasers to carefully consider their titling decision prior to closing, and to seek counsel should they be unfamiliar with the most suitable ownership choice for their particular situation.

Common Methods of Holding Title

SOLE OWNERSHIP

Sole ownership may be described as ownership by an individual or other entity capable of acquiring title. Examples of common vestings in cases of sole ownership are:

  1. A Single Man/Woman: A man or woman who has not been legally married. For example: Bruce Buyer, a single man. 
  2. An Unmarried Man/Woman: A man or woman who was previously married and is now legally divorced. For example: Sally Seller, an unmarried woman. 
  3. A Married Man/Woman as His/Her Sole and Separate Property: A married man or woman who wishes to acquire title in his or her name alone.

The title company insuring title will require the spouse of the married man or woman acquiring title to specifically disclaim or relinquish his or her right, title and interest to the property. This establishes that it is the desire of both spouses that title to the property be granted to one spouse as that spouse's sole and separate property. For example: Bruce Buyer, a married man, as his sole and separate property.

CO-OWNERSHIP

Title to property owned by two or more persons may be vested in the following forms:

  1. Community Property: A form of vesting title to property owned by husband and wife during their marriage which they intend to own together. Community property is distinguished from separate property, which is property acquired before marriage, by separate gift or bequest, after legal separation, or which is agreed to be owned only by one spouse.
    Real property conveyed to a married man or woman is presumed to be community property, unless otherwise stated. Since all such property is owned equally, husband and wife must sign all agreements and documents of transfer. Under community property, either spouse has the right to dispose of one half of the community property, including transfers by will. For example: Bruce Buyer and Barbara Buyer, husband and wife as community property.
  2. Joint Tenancy A form of vesting title to property owned by two or more persons, who may or may not be married, in equal interest, subject to the right of survivorship in the surviving joint tenant(s). Title must have been acquired at the same time, by the same conveyance, and the document must expressly declare the intention to create a joint tenancy estate. When a joint tenant dies, title to the property is automatically conveyed by operation of law to the surviving joint tenant(s). Therefore, joint tenancy property is not subject to disposition by will. For example: Bruce Buyer and Barbara Buyer, husband and wife as joint tenants.
  3. Tenancy in Common: A form of vesting title to property owned by any two or more individuals in undivided fractional interests. These fractional interests may be unequal in quantity or duration and may arise at different times. Each tenant in common owns a share of the property, is entitled to a comparable portion of the income from the property and must bear an equivalent share of expenses. Each co-tenant may sell, lease or will to his/her heir that share of the property belonging to him/her. For example: Bruce Buyer, a single man, as to an undivided 3/4 interest and Penny Purchaser, a single woman, as to an undivided 1/4 interest, as tenants in common.

Other ways of vesting title include as:

  1. A Corporation*: A corporation is a legal entity, created under state law, consisting of one or more shareholders but regarded under law as having an existence and personality separate from such shareholders.
  2. A Partnership*: A partnership is an association of two or more persons who can carry on business for profit as co-owners, as governed by the Uniform Partnership Act. A partnership may hold title to real property in the name of the partnership.
  3. As Trustees of A Trust*: A trust is an arrangement whereby legal title to property is transferred by the grantor to a person called a trustee, to be held and managed by that person for the benefit of the people specified in the trust agreement, called the beneficiaries.
  4. Limited Liability Companies (L.L.C.) This form of ownership is a legal entity and is similar to both the corporation and the partnership. The operating agreement will determine how the L.L.C. functions and is taxed. Like the corporation its existence is separate from its owners.

*In cases of corporate, partnership, L.L.C. or trust ownership - required documents may include corporate articles and bylaws, partnership agreements, L.L.C. operating agreement and trust agreements and/or certificates.

Remember:

How title is vested has important legal consequences. You may wish to consult an attorney to determine the most advantageous form of ownership for your particular situation.

Living Trusts+

Estate planners often recommend "Living Trusts" as a viable option when contemplating the manner in which to hold title to real property. When a property is held in a Living Trust, title companies have particular requirements to facilitate the transaction. While not comprehensive, following are answers to many commonly asked questions. If you have questions that are not answered below, your title company representative may be able to assist you, however, one may wish to seek legal counsel.

Who are the parties to a Trust?

A typical trust is the Family Trust in which the Husband and Wife are the Trustees and, with their children, the Beneficiaries. Those who establish the trust and transfer their property into it are known as Trustors or Settlors. The settlor's usually appoint themselves as Trustees and they are the primary beneficiaries during their lifetime. After their passing, their children and grandchildren usually become the primary beneficiaries if the trust is to survive, or the beneficiaries receive distributions directly from the trust if it is to close out.

What is a Living Trust?

Sometimes called an Inter-vivos Trust, the Living Trust is created during the lifetime of the Settlors (as opposed to being created by their Wills after death) and usually terminates after they die and the body of the Trust is distributed to their beneficiaries.

Can a Trust hold title to Real Property?

No; the Trustee holds the property on behalf of the Trust.

Is a Trust the best way to hold my property?

Only your attorney or accountant can answer the question; some common reasons for holding property in a Trust are to minimize or postpone death taxes, to avoid a time consuming probate, and to shield property from attack by certain unsecured creditors.

What taxes can I avoid by putting my property in trust?

Married persons can usually exempt a significant part of their assets from taxation and may postpone taxes after the first of them to die passes. You should check with your attorney or accountant before taking any action.

Can I homestead property which is held in a Trust?

Yes, if the property otherwise qualifies.

Can a Trustee borrow money against the property?

A Trustee can take any action permitted by the terms of the Trust, and the typical Trust Agreement does give the Trustee the authority to borrow and encumber real property. However, not all lenders will lend on a property held in trust, so check with your lender first.

Can Someone else hold title for me "in trust?"

Some people who do not wish their names to show as titleholders make private arrangements with a third party Trustee; however, such an arrangement may be illegal, and is always inadvisable because the Trustee of record is the only one who is empowered to convey, or borrow against, the property, and a Title Insurer cannot protect you from a Trustee who is not acting in accordance with your wishes despite the existence of a private agreement you have with the Trustee.

Mello-Roos+

In purchasing your new home, your future monthly payments will be made up of principal, interest, real property taxes and insurance, but what is the tax for the Community Facilities District, otherwise known as a Mello-Roos District? The LTA has answered some of the questions most commonly asked about the Mello-Roos Community Facilities Act.

What is a Mello-Roos District?

A Mello-Roos District is an area where a special tax is imposed on those real property owners within a Community Facilities District. This district has chosen to seek public financing through the sale of bonds for the purpose of financing certain public improvements and services. These services may include streets, water, sewage and drainage, electricity, infrastructure, schools, parks and police protection to newly developing areas. The tax you pay is used to make the payments of principal and interest on the bonds.

Are the assessments included within the Proposition 13 tax limits?

No. The passage of Proposition 13 in 1978 severely restricted local government in its ability to finance public capital facilities and services by increasing real property taxes. The "Mello-Roos Community Facilities Act of 1982" provided local government with an additional financing tool. The Proposition 13 tax limits are on the value of the real property, while Mello-Roos taxes are equally and uniformly applied to all properties.

What are my Mello-Roos taxes paying for?

Your taxes may be paying for both services and facilities. The services may be financed only to the extent of new growth, and services include: Police protection, fire protection, ambulance and paramedic services, recreation program services, library services, the operation and maintenance of parks, parkways and open space, museums, cultural facilities, flood and storm protection, and services for the removal of any threatening hazardous substance. Facilities which may be financed under the Act include: Property with an estimated useful life of five years or longer, parks, recreation facilities, parkway facilities, open-space facilities, elementary and secondary school sites and structures, libraries, child care facilities, natural gas pipeline facilities, telephone lines, facilities to transmit and distribute electrical energy, cable television lines, and others.

When do I pay these taxes?

By purchasing an interest in a subdivision within a Community Facilities District you can expect to be assessed for a Mello-Roos tax which will typically be collected with your general property tax bill. These special tax payments are subject to the same penalties that apply to regular property taxes.

How long does the tax stay in effect?

The tax will stay in effect until the principal and interest on the bonds are paid off along with any reasonable administrative costs incurred in collecting the special tax or so long as it is needed to pay the expenses of services, but in no case shall exceed 40 years.

What happens if a general tax payment is not made on time?

Because the Mello-Roos tax is typically collected with your general property tax bill, the Facilities District that obtained the lien may withdraw the assessment from the tax roll and commence judicial foreclosure.

What is the basis for the tax?

Most special taxes levied on properties within these districts have been structured on the basis of density of development, square footage of construction, or flat acreage charges. The act, however, allows for considerable flexibility in the method of apportionment of taxes, and the local agencies may have established an entirely different method of levying the special tax against property in the district in question.

How much will the Mello-Roos payment be?

The amount of tax may vary from year-to-year, but may not exceed the maximum amount specified when the district was created. In the case of the purchase of a new house within a subdivision, the maximum amount of the tax will be specified in the public report. The Resolution of Formation must specify the rate, method of apportionment, and manner of collection of the special tax in sufficient detail to allow each landowner or resident within the proposed district to estimate the maximum amount that he or she will have to pay.

How is the special tax reflected on the real property records?

The special tax is a lien on your property, essentially like a regular tax lien. The lien is recorded as a "Notice of Special Tax Lien" which is a continuing lien to secure each levy of the special tax.

How are Mello-Roos taxes affected when the property is sold?

The Mello-Roos tax is assessed against the land, but is not based upon the value of the property, therefore, the possible increased value of the property does not affect the amount of the tax when property is sold. The amount of the tax may not exceed the original maximum amount stated in the Resolution of Formation. Any delinquent payments must be satisfied before the sale of the real property since the unpaid amounts are a lien against the property.

Condominium and PUD Ownership+

Builders, in an effort to combat the dual problem of an increasing population and a declining availability of prime land, are increasingly turning to common interest developments (CIDs) as a means to maximize land use and offer Homebuyers convenient, affordable housing.

The two most common forms of common interest developments in many states are Condominiums and Planned Unit Developments, often referred to as PUDs. The essential characteristics shared by these two forms of ownership are:

  1. Common ownership of private residential property;
  2. Mandatory membership of all owners in an association which controls use of the common property;
  3. Governing documents which establish the procedures for governing the association, the rules which the owners must follow in the use of their individual lots or units as well as the common properties; and
  4. A means by which owners are assessed to finance the operation of the association and maintenance of the common properties.

Before continuing further, it may be helpful to clarify a common misconception about Condominiums and PUDs. The terms Condominium and PUD refer to types of interests in land, not to physical styles of dwellings. Therefore, when Homebuyers say that they are buying a townhouse, that is not the same as saying that they are buying a Condominium. When Homebuyers say that they are buying a unit in a PUD, they are not necessarily buying a single-family detached home. A townhouse might legally be a Condominium, a unit or lot in a Planned Unit Development, or a single-family detached residence. The terms Condominium or PUD will say a great deal about the ownership rights the buyer will receive in the unit and the interest they will acquire in the common properties or common areas of the development.

Common interest developments offer many advantages to Homebuyers-low maintenance and access to attractive amenities-however, there are restrictions and duties which come with ownership of a Condominium or PUD that buyers should be aware of prior to purchase.

To acquaint you with various aspects of ownership in common interest developments, the Land Title Association has answered some of the questions most commonly asked about Condominiums and PUDs.

What are the basic differences between ownership of a Condominium and ownership of a PUD?

The owner(s) of a unit within a typical Condominium project owns 100% of the unit, as defined by a recorded Condominium Plan. As well, they will own a fractional or percentage interest in all common areas of the Condominium project.

The owner(s) of a lot within a PUD own the lot which has been conveyed to them-as shown in the recorded Tract Map or Parcel Map-and the structure and improvements thereon. In addition, they receive rights and easements to use in common areas owned by another-frequently a Homeowner's association-of which the individual lot owners are members.

The above are basic descriptions and should not be considered legal definitions.

Besides ownership of my unit, what other amenities (common areas) will I be acquiring use of and how will I own them?

Common interest areas may span the spectrum from the ordinary-buildings, roadways, walkways and utility rooms-to the extravagant-equestrian trails and golf courses-with more usual amenities including community swimming pools and clubhouse facilities.

Your ownership rights in common areas will be spelled out in your project's Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC and R's). The subject of CC and R's will be expanded upon later in this brochure.

As we stated in the answer to the previous question, Condominium owners own a fractional or percentage interest in common with all other owners in the Condominium project, in all common areas. PUD owners receive rights and easements to use of common areas through their membership in a Homeowner's association, which typically owns and controls the common areas. Some PUD projects, however, provide that the individual Homeowners will own a fractional interest in the common areas. Again, in this case, a Homeowner's association will have the right to regulate the use of the common areas and to assess for purposes of maintaining the common areas.

Check your CC and R's and association Bylaws (basically, rules governing the management of the development) to insure that you understand your rights to use of your unit and common areas.

What services will my Homeowner's assessments help to finance?

Your Homeowner's assessments support not only the easily recognizable-building and swimming pool upkeep, landscape maintenance-but also the unseen-association management and legal fees and association insurance.

As well, reserves must be factored into your assessments, including reserves for replacement of such items as roadways and walkways. In the case of Condominiums, where ownership is usually limited to airspace within the walls, floors and ceiling of the unit, reserves will frequently fund replacement of such items as roofs and plumbing.

Each member of the Homeowner's association, upon purchasing their unit, must receive a pro forma operating budget from the association. Basically, this will be a financial statement of the income and obligations of the association, which must include an estimate of the life of the obligations covered under the assessments and how their replacement is being funded.

What happens if I fail to pay my Homeowner's assessments?

Delinquency fees will be added onto the unpaid assessments.

Should your delinquency continue, the association has the right to place a lien upon your property. The lien may lead to a foreclosure if the delinquency is not paid

Of what importance are CC and R's and Bylaws?

CC and R's and Bylaws are the rules and regulations of the community, meant to guide the use of individual properties and common areas. Buyers should be aware that CC and R's and Bylaws may be written so as to restrict not only property use, but also to restrict owners' lifestyles, for instance, spelling out hours during which entertainment, such as parties, may be hosted.

CC and R's and Bylaws are highly important and should be thoroughly examined and understood prior to purchase. They bind all owners and their successors to the rules and regulations of the community. Failure to follow those rules and regulations can be considered a breach of contract. Legal action may be taken against the Homeowner for any such breach.

At what point in the real estate transaction will I be allowed to review a copy of my CC and R's and Bylaws?

Legally, it is the responsibility of the owner to provide the prospective purchaser with the governing documents of the development (CC and R's and Bylaws), the most recent financial statement of the Homeowner's association and notice of any dues delinquent on the unit.

The law states that these items should be delivered as soon as practicable; however, the prospective buyer should request to see them as early as possible. If you do not fully understand what is stated in these documents, consult a real property attorney.

Should I object to items included in the CC and R's and/or Bylaws, will I have the opportunity to terminate those items prior to taking ownership?

No. The process required to terminate these restrictions is often complex and costly. Termination of restrictions will require, at least, a majority vote by members of the Homeowner's association, and may require litigation.

What if I have further questions regarding Condominium and PUD ownership?

Ask any questions you may have before you buy! Don't wait to take ownership to find out about restrictions and regulations affecting your Homeownership rights.

Mechanic's Liens+

The Mechanics' Lien law provides special protection to contractors, subcontractors, laborers and suppliers who furnish labor or materials to repair, remodel or build your home.

If any of these people are not paid for the services or materials they have provided, your home may be subject to a mechanics' lien and eventual sale in a legal proceeding to enforce the lien. This result can occur even where full payment for the work of improvement has been made by the homeowner.

The mechanics' lien is a right that a state gives to workers and suppliers to record a lien to ensure payment. This lien may be recorded where the property owner has paid the contractor in full and the contractor then fails to pay the subcontractors, suppliers, or laborers. Thus, in the worst case, a homeowner may actually end up paying twice for the same work.

The theory is that the value of the property upon which the labor or materials have been bestowed has been increased by virtue of these efforts and the homeowner who has reaped this benefit is required in return to act as the ultimate guarantor of full payment to the persons responsible for this increase in value. In practice, a homeowner faced with a valid mechanics' lien may be compelled to pay the lien claimant and then pursue conventional legal remedies against the contractor or subcontractor who initially failed to pay the lien claimant but who himself was paid by the homeowner. Another justification for this result relates to the relative financial strengths of the parties to a work of improvement. The law views the property owner as being in a better situation to absorb the financial setback occasioned by having to pay the amount of a valid mechanics' lien, as opposed to a laborer or material man who is viewed as being less able to absorb the financial burdens occasioned by not being paid for services or materials provided in connection with a work of improvement.

The best protection against these claims is for the homeowner to employ reputable firms with sufficient experience and capital and/or require completion and payment bonding of the construction work. The issuance of checks payable jointly to the contractor, material men and suppliers is another protective measure, as is the careful disbursement of funds in phases based upon the percentage of completion of the project at a given point in the construction process. The protection offered by mechanics' lien releases can also be helpful.

Even if a mechanics' lien is recorded against your property you may be able to resolve the problem without further payment to the lien claimant. This possibility exists where the proper procedure for establishing the lien was not followed. While it is true that mechanics' liens may be recorded by persons who have provided labor, services, or materials to a job site, each is required to strictly adhere to a well-established procedure in order to create a valid mechanics' lien.

Needless to say, this is one area of the law that is very complex, thus it may be worthwhile to consult an attorney if you become aware that a mechanics's lien has been recorded against your property. In the event you discover that a lien has been recorded but no effort has been made to enforce the lien, a title company may decide to ignore the lien. However, be prepared to be presented with a positive plan to eliminate the title problems created by this type of lien. This may be accomplished by means of a recorded mechanics' lien release from the person who created the lien, or other measures acceptable to the title company.

As in all areas of the real estate field, the best advice is to investigate the quality, integrity, and business reputation of the firm with whom you are dealing. Once you are satisfied you are dealing with a reputable company and before you begin your construction project, discuss your concerns about possible mechanics' lien problems and work out, in advance, a method of ensuring that they will not occur.

Understanding Foreclosures+

It is an unfortunate commentary, but when economic activity declines and housing activity decreases more real property enter the foreclosure process. High interest rates and creative financing arrangements also are contributing factors.

When prices are rapidly accelerating during a real estate "bonanza", many people go to any lengths available to get into the market through investments in vacation homes, rental housing and "trading up" to more expensive properties. In some cases, this results in the taking on of high interest rate payments and second, third and even fourth deeds of trust. Many buyers anticipate that interest rates will drop and home prices will continue to escalate. Neither may occur, and borrowers may be faced with large "balloon" payments becoming due. When payments cannot be met, the foreclosure process looms on the horizon.

In the foreclosure process, one thing should be kept in mind: as a general rule, a lender would rather receive payments than receive a home due to a foreclosure. Lenders are not in the business of selling real estate and will often try to accommodate property owners who are having payment problems. The best plan is to contact the lender before payment problems arise. If monthly payments are too hefty, it may be that a lender will be able to make some alternative payment arrangements until the owner's financial situation improves.

Let's say, however, that a property owner has missed payments and has not made any alternate arrangements with the lender. In this case, the lender may decide to begin the foreclosure process. Under such circumstances, the lender, whether a bank, savings and loan or private party, will request that the trustee, often a title company, file a notice of default with the county recorder's office. A copy of the notice is mailed to the property owner.

If the default is due to a balloon payment not being made when due, the lender can require full payment on the entire outstanding loan as the only way to cure the default. If the default is not cured, the lender may direct the trustee to sell the property at a public sale.

In cases of a public sale, a notice of sale must be published in a local newspaper and posted in a public place, usually the courthouse, for three consecutive weeks. Once the notice of sale has been recorded, the property owner has until 5 days prior to the published sale date to bring the loan current. If the owner cures the default by making up the payments, the deed of trust will be reinstated and regular monthly payments will continue as before.

After this time, it may still be possible for the property owner to work out a postponement on the sale with the lender. However, if no postponement is reached, the property goes "on the block". At the sale, buyers must pay the amount of their bid in cash, cashier's check or other instrument acceptable to the trustee. A lender may "credit bid" up to the amount of the obligation being foreclosed upon.

With the recent attention given to foreclosure, there also has been corresponding interest in buying foreclosed properties. However, caveat emptor: buyer beware. Foreclosed properties are very likely to be burdened with overdue taxes, liens and clouded titles. A buyer should do his homework and ask a local title company for information concerning these outstanding liens and encumbrances. Title insurance may or may not be available following a foreclosure sale and various exceptions may be included in any title insurance policy issued to a buyer of a foreclosed property.

Your local title company will be happy to provide additional information.

Title Company Related Articles

The Functions of an Escrow+

Buying or selling a home (or other piece of real property) usually involves the transfer of large sums of money. It is imperative that the transfer of these funds and related documents from one party to another be handled in a neutral, secure and knowledgeable manner. For the protection of buyer, seller and lender, the escrow process was developed.

As a buyer or seller, you want to be certain all conditions of sale have been met before property and money change hands. The technical definition of an escrow is a transaction where one party engaged in the sale, transfer or lease of real or personal property with another person delivers a written instrument, money or other items of value to a neutral third person, called an escrow agent or escrow holder. This third person holds the money or items for disbursement upon the happening of a specified event or the performance of a specified condition.

Simply stated, the escrow holder impartially carries out the written instructions given by the principals. This includes receiving funds and documents necessary to comply with those instructions, completing or obtaining required forms and handling final delivery of all items to the proper parties upon the successful completion of the escrow.

The escrow must be provided with the necessary information to close the transaction. This may include loan documents, tax statements, fire and other insurance policies, title insurance policies, terms of sale and any seller-assisted financing, and requests for payment for various services to be paid out of escrow funds.

If the transaction is dependent on arranging new financing, it is the buyer's or the buyer's agent's responsibility to make the necessary arrangements. Documentation of the new loan agreement must be in the hands of the escrow holder before the transfer of property can take place. A real estate agent can help identify appropriate lending institutions.

When all the instructions in the escrow have been carried out, the closing can take place. At this time, all outstanding funds are collected and fees--such as title insurance premiums, real estate commissions, termite inspection charges--are paid. Title to the property is then transferred under the terms of the escrow instructions and appropriate title insurance is issued.

Payment of funds at the close of escrow should be in the form acceptable to the escrow, since out-of-town and personal checks can cause days of delay in processing the transaction.

The following items represent a typical list of what an escrow holder does and does not do:

The Escrow Holder:

  • Serves as the neutral "stakeholder" and the communications link to all parties in the transaction;
  • Prepares escrow instructions;
  • Requests a preliminary title search to determine the present condition of title to the property;
  • Requests a beneficiary's statement if debt or obligation is to be taken over by the buyer;
  • Complies with lender's requirements, specified in the escrow agreement;
  • Receives purchase funds from the buyer;
  • Prepares or secures the deed or other documents related to escrow;
  • Prorates taxes, interest, insurance and rents according to instructions;
  • Secures releases of all contingencies or other conditions as imposed on any particular escrow;
  • Records deeds and any other documents as instructed;
  • Requests issuance of the title insurance policy;
  • Closes escrow when all the instructions of buyer and seller have been carried out;
  • Disburses funds as authorized by instructions, including charges for title insurance, recording fees, real estate commissions and loan payoffs;
  • Prepares final statements for the parties accounting for the disposition of all funds deposited in escrow (these are useful in the preparation of tax returns).

The Escrow Holder Does Not:

  • Offer legal advice;
  • Negotiate the transaction;
  • Offer investment advice.

Your local title company should be happy to provide additional information.

Closing and Title Costs+

It's the big day.

The day you go to the title or escrow company, sign your name on the dotted line, hand over a check and prepare to take ownership of your new home.

It's also the day that you and the seller will pay "closing" or settlement costs, an accumulation of separate charges paid to different entities for the professional services associated with the buying and selling of real property.

It's too often a day filled with uncertainty and stress.

To help you better understand this confusing subject, the Land Title Association has answered some of the questions most commonly asked about title, closing and closing costs.

What services will I be paying for when I pay closing costs?

You will usually be paying for such things as real estate commissions, appraisal fees, loan fees, escrow charges, advance payments such as property taxes and homeowner's insurance, title insurance premiums, pest inspections and the like.

How much should I expect to pay in closing costs?

The amount you pay for closing costs will vary; however, when buying your home and obtaining a new loan, an estimate of your closing costs will be provided to you pursuant to the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act after you submit your loan application. This disclosure provides you with a good faith estimate of what your closing costs will be in the real estate process. An itemized list of charges will be prepared when you close your transaction and take title to your new property.

Can I pay for my closing costs in installments?

No, and it is easy to understand why. Many different parties will have fulfilled their responsibilities and be awaiting payment upon closing. The title or escrow company will disburse money to those parties, pursuant to the escrow instructions, when funds are available.

Will I be allowed to write a personal check to cover my closing cost?

Your closing funds should be in the form of a cashier's check, issued by an institution from the state of your purchase, made payable to the title company or escrow office in the amount requested. A personal check may delay the closing or may be unacceptable to the title or escrow company. An out-of-state check could also cause a delay in your closing due to possible delays in clearing the check.

How much can I expect to pay for Title Insurance?

This point is often misunderstood. Although the title company or escrow office usually serves as a meeting ground for closing the sale, only a small percentage of total closing fees are actually for title insurance protection.

Your title insurance premium may actually amount to less than one percent of the purchase price of your home, and less than ten percent of your total closing costs. The title policy is good for as long as you and your heirs own the property with the payment of only one premium.

Why are separate owner's and lender's title insurance policies issued?

Both you and your lender will want the security offered by title insurance.

Your home is an important purchase, and you will want to be certain your home is yours, all yours. Title insurance companies insure your rights and interests in order to protect you against claims.

Your lender is looking to insure the enforceability of their lien on your property and marketability. What is meant by "marketability"? Local lenders will "originate" a loan here, and, often, sell it to an out-of-state investor. This investor, who may never see the property, needs to know that he has a valid and enforceable lien. Title insurance is the way of making certain. Without a current title policy, the loan is essentially unmarketable.

What does my Title dollar pay for?

Title insurers, unlike property or casualty insurance companies, operate under the theory of "risk elimination."

Risk elimination can only be accomplished after an intensive period of risk identification.

Title companies spend a high percentage of their operating revenue each year collecting, storing, maintaining and analyzing official records for information that affects title to real property. The issuance of a title insurance policy is highly labor-intensive. It is based upon the maintenance of a title "plant" or library of title records, in many cases dating back over a hundred years. Each day, recorded documents affecting real property are posted to these plants so that when a title search on a particular parcel is requested, the information is already organized for rapid and accurate retrieval.

Trained title experts are able, with the aid of their extensive title plants, to identify the rights others may have in your property, such as recorded liens, legal actions, disputed interests, rights of way or other encumbrances on your title. Before closing your transaction, you can seek to "clear" those encumbrances which you do not wish to assume.

The goal of title companies is to conduct such a thorough search and evaluation of public records that no claims will ever arise. Of course, this is impossible--we live in an imperfect world, where human error and changing legal interpretations make 100 percent risk elimination impossible. When claims do arise, title insurance companies have professional claims personnel to make sure that your property rights are protected pursuant to the terms of your policy.

To conclude, when you pay for your title insurance policy, you are paying for a team of professionals who have worked together to deliver you a title insurance policy which represents protection for your ownership of real property.

Who can I look for straight answers on Title, Closing, and closing costs?

Title or escrow company personnel are available to review and explain your title policy and your closing statement.

Understanding Title Insurance+

What is title insurance? Newspapers refer to it in the weekly real estate sections and you hear about it in conversations with real estate brokers. If you've purchased a home you may be familiar with the benefits of title insurance. However, if this is your first home, you may wonder, "Why do I need yet another insurance policy?" While a number of issues can be raised by that question, we will start with a general answer.

The purchase of a home is one of the most expensive and important purchases you will ever make. You and your mortgage lender will want to make sure the property is indeed yours and that no one else has any lien, claim or encumbrance on your property.

The Land Title Association, in the following pages, answers some questions frequently asked about an often misunderstood line of insurance -- title insurance.

What is the difference between title insurance and casualty insurance?

Title insurers work to identify and eliminate risk before issuing a title insurance policy. Casualty insurers assume risks.

Casualty insurance companies realize that a certain number of losses will occur each year in a given category (auto, fire, etc.). The insurers collect premiums monthly or annually from the policy holders to establish reserve funds in order to pay for expected losses.

Title companies work in a very different manner. Title insurance will indemnify you against loss under the terms of your policy, but title companies work in advance of issuing your policy to identify and eliminate potential risks and therefore prevent losses caused by title defects that may have been created in the past.

Title insurance also differs from casualty insurance in that the greatest part of the title insurance premium dollar goes towards risk elimination. Title companies maintain "title plants" which contain information regarding property transfers and liens reaching back many years. Maintaining these title plants, along with the searching and examining of title, is where most of your premium dollar goes.

Who needs title insurance?

Buyers and lenders in real estate transactions need title insurance. Both want to know that the property they are involved with is insured against certain title defects. Title companies provide this needed insurance coverage subject to the terms of the policy. The seller, buyer and lender all benefit from the insurance provided by title companies.

What does title insurance insure?

Title insurance offers protection against claims resulting from various defects (as set out in the policy) which may exist in the title to a specific parcel of real property, effective on the issue date of the policy. For example, a person might claim to have a deed or lease giving them ownership or the right to possess your property. Another person could claim to hold an easement giving them a right of access across your land. Yet another person may claim that they have a lien on your property securing the repayment of a debt. That property may be an empty lot or it may hold a 50-story office tower. Title companies work with all types of real property.

What types of policies are available?

Title companies routinely issue two types of policies: An "owner's" policy which insures you, the Homebuyer for as long as you and your heirs own the home; and a "lender's" policy which insures the priority of the lender's security interest over the claims that others may have in the property.

What protection am I obtaining with my title policy?

A title insurance policy contains provisions for the payment of the legal fees in defense of a claim against your property which is covered under your policy. It also contains provisions for indemnification against losses which result from a covered claim. A premium is paid at the close of a transaction. There are no continuing premiums due, as there are with other types of insurance.

What are my chances of ever using my title policy?

In essence, by acquiring your policy, you derive the important knowledge that recorded matters have been searched and examined so that title insurance covering your property can be issued. Because we are risk eliminators, the probability of exercising your right to make a claim is very low. However, claims against your property may not be valid, making the continuous protection of the policy all the more important. When a title company provides a legal defense against claims covered by your title insurance policy, the savings to you for that legal defense alone will greatly exceed the one-time premium.

What if I am buying property from someone I know?

You may not know the owner as well as you think you do. People undergo changes in their personal lives that may affect title to their property. People get divorced, change their wills, engage in transactions that limit the use of the property and have liens and judgments placed against them personally for various reasons.

There may also be matters affecting the property that are not obvious or known, even by the existing owner, which a title search and examination seeks to uncover as part of the process leading up to the issuance of the title insurance policy.

Just as you wouldn't make an investment based on a phone call, you shouldn't buy real property without assurances as to your title. Title insurance provides these assurances.

The process of risk identification and elimination performed by the title companies, prior to the issuance of a title policy, benefits all parties in the property transaction. It minimizes the chances that adverse claims might be raised, and by doing so reduces the number of claims that need to be defended or satisfied. This process keeps costs and expenses down for the title company and maintains the traditional low cost of title insurance.

Why Do You Need Title Insurance?+

Title Insurance.

It's a term we hear and see frequently -- we see reference to it in the Sunday real estate section, in advertisements and in conversations with real estate brokers. If you've purchased a home before, you're probably familiar with the benefits and procedures of title insurance. But if this is your first home, you may wonder, "Why do I need another insurance policy? It's just one more bill to pay."

The answer is simple: The purchase of a home is most likely one of the most expensive and important purchases you will ever make. You, and your mortgage lender, want to make sure that the property is indeed yours -- lock, stock and barrel -- and that no individual or government entity has any right, lien, claim to your property.

Title insurance companies are in business to make sure your rights and interests to the property are clear, that transfer of title takes place efficiently and correctly and that your interests as a homebuyer are protected to the maximum degree.

Title insurance companies provide services to buyers, sellers, real estate developers, builders, mortgage lenders and others who have an interest in a real estate transfer. Title companies routinely issue two types of policies -- "owner's," which cover you, the homebuyer; and "lender's," which covers the bank, savings and loan or other lending institution over the life of the loan. Both are issued at the time of purchase for a modest, one-time premium.

Before issuing a policy, however, the title company performs an extensive search of relevant public records to determine if anyone other than you has an interest in the property. The search may be performed by title company personnel using either public records or more likely, information gathered, reorganized and indexed in the company's title "plant."

With such a thorough examination of records, any title problems usually can be found and cleared up prior to your purchase of the property. Once a title policy is issued, if for some reason any claim which is covered under your title policy is ever filed against your property, the title company will pay the legal fee involved in defense of your rights, as well as any covered loss arising from a valid claim. That protection, which is in effect as long as you or your heirs own the property, is yours for a one-time premium paid at the time of purchase.

The fact that title companies work to eliminate risks before they develop makes the title insurance decidedly different from other types of insurance you may have purchased. Most forms of insurance assume risks by providing financial protection through a pooling of risks for losses arising from an unforeseen event, say a fire, theft or accident. The purpose of title insurance, on the other hand, is to eliminate risks and prevent losses caused by defects in title that happened in the past. Risks are examined and mitigated before property changes hands.

This risk elimination has benefits to both you, the homebuyer, and the title company: it minimizes the chances adverse claims might be raised, and by so doing reduces the number of claims that have to be defended or satisfied. This keeps costs down for the title company and your title premiums low.

Buying a home is a big step emotionally and financially. With title insurance you are assured that any valid claim against your property will be borne by the title company, and that the odds of a claim being filed are slim indeed.

Isn't sleeping well at night, knowing your home is yours, reason enough for title insurance?

Title Insurance - Where Does Your Dollar Go?+

Title Insurance: As a homebuyer, the term is probably familiar -- but is it understood? What is your dollar actually paying for when you purchase a title policy?

Title Insurers, unlike property or casualty insurance companies, operate under the theory of risk elimination. Title companies spend a high percentage of their operating income each year collecting, storing, maintaining and analyzing official records for information that affects title to real property. Their technical experts are trained to identify the rights others may have in your property, such as recorded liens, legal actions, disputed interests, rights of way or other encumbrances on your title. Before closing your transaction, the title company will proceed to "clear" those encumbrances which you do not wish to assume.

This theory is different from that of most other insurance where, for example, rates and anticipated losses are based on actuarial studies and premiums are pooled on the assumption that a certain number of claims will be made. The distinction is important: title insurance premiums are paid to identify and eliminate potential risks and claims before they happen. Medical and casualty insurance premiums, for example, are paid to insure against an unpredictable future event, knowing that risks exist and claims will occur. Furthermore, title insurance involves a one-time premium, paid when you close the real estate transaction, while property, casualty and medical insurance require regular renewal premiums.

The goal of title companies is to conduct such a thorough search and evaluation of public records that no claims will ever arise. Of course, this is impossible -- we live in an imperfect world, where human error and changing legal interpretations make 100 percent risk elimination impossible. When claims arise, professional claims personnel are assigned to handle them according to the terms of the title insurance policy.

As in all competitive business environments, rates vary from company to company, so you should make comparisons before deciding on a particular title company. Your real estate professional can help you do this. In addition, there are many helpful customer services provided by title companies which you and your real estate professional may find helpful to your transaction.

The issuance of a title insurance policy is highly labor-intensive. It is based upon the maintenance of a title "plant," or library of title records, in many cases dating back over a hundred years. Each day, recorded documents affecting real property and property owners are posted to these title plants so that when a title search on a particular parcel is requested, the information is already organized for rapid and accurate retrieval. This investment in skilled personnel and advanced data processing represents a major part of the title insurance premium dollar.

Understanding Preliminary Reports+

After months of searching, you've finally found it -- your perfect dream home. But is it perfect?

Will you be purchasing more than just a beautiful home? Will you also be acquiring liens placed on the property by prior owners? Have documents been recorded that will restrict your use of the property?

The preliminary report will provide you with the opportunity, prior to purchase, to review matters affecting your property which will be excluded from coverage under your title insurance policy unless removed or eliminated before your purchase.

To help you better understand this often bewildering subject, the Land Title Association has answered some of the questions most commonly asked about preliminary reports.

What is a Preliminary Report?

A preliminary report is a report prepared prior to issuing a policy of title insurance that shows the ownership of a specific parcel of land, together with the liens and encumbrances thereon which will not be covered under a subsequent title insurance policy.

What role does a Preliminary Report play in the real estate process?

A preliminary report contains the conditions under which the title company will issue a particular type of title insurance policy.

The preliminary report lists, in advance of purchase, title defects, liens and encumbrances which would be excluded from coverage if the requested title insurance policy were to be issued as of the date of the preliminary report. The report may then be reviewed and discussed by the parties to a real estate transaction and their agents.

Thus, a preliminary report provides the opportunity to seek the removal of items referenced in the report which are objectionable to the buyer prior to purchase.

When and how is the Preliminary Report produced?

Shortly after escrow is opened, an order will be placed with the title company which will then begin the process involved in producing the report.

This process calls for the assembly and review of certain recorded matters relative to both the property and the parties to the transaction. Examples of recorded matters include a deed of trust recorded against the property or a lien recorded against the buyer or seller for an unpaid court award or unpaid taxes.

These recorded matters are listed numerically as "exceptions" in the preliminary report. They will remain exceptions from title insurance coverage unless eliminated or released prior to the transfer of title.

What should I look for when reading my Preliminary Report?

You will be interested, primarily, in the extent of your ownership rights. This means you will want to review the ownership interest in the property you will be buying as well as any claims, restrictions or interests of other people involving the property.

The report will note in a statement of vesting the degree, quantity, nature and extent of the owner's interest in the real property. The most common form of interest is "fee simple" or "fee" which is the highest type of interest an owner can have in land.

Liens, restrictions and interests of others which are being excluded from coverage will be listed numerically as "exceptions" in the preliminary report. These may be claims by creditors who have liens or liens for payment of taxes or assessments. There may also be recorded restrictions which have been placed in a prior deed or contained in what are termed CC&Rs--covenants, conditions and restrictions. Finally, interests of third parties are not uncommon and may include easements given by a prior owner which limit your use of the property. When you buy property you may not wish to have these claims or restrictions on your property. Instead, you may want to clear the unwanted items prior to purchase.

In addition to the limitations noted above, a printed list of standard exceptions and exclusions listing items not covered by your title insurance policy may be attached as an exhibit item to your report. Unlike the numbered exclusions, which are specific to the property you are buying, these are standard exceptions and exclusions appearing in title insurance policies. The review of this section is important, as it sets forth matters which will not be covered under your title insurance policy, but which you may wish to investigate, such as governmental laws or regulations governing building and zoning.

Will the Preliminary Report disclose the complete condition of the title to a property?

No. It is important to note that the preliminary report is not a written representation as to the condition of title and may not list all liens, defects, and encumbrances affecting title to the land, but merely report the current ownership and matters that the title company will exclude from coverage if a title insurance policy should later be issued.

Is a Preliminary Report the same thing as title insurance?

Definitely not.

A preliminary report is an offer to insure, it is not a report of a complete history of recorded documents relating to the property. A preliminary report is a statement of terms and conditions of the offer to issue a title insurance policy, not a representation as to the condition of title.

These distinctions are important for the following reasons: first, no contract or liability exists until the title insurance policy is issued; second, the title insurance policy is issued to a particular insured person and others cannot claim the benefit of the policy.

Can I be protected against title risks prior to the close of the real estate transaction?

Yes, you can. Title companies can protect your interest through the issuance of "binders" and "commitments."

A binder is an agreement to issue insurance giving temporary coverage until such time as a formal policy is issued. A commitment is a title insurer's contractual obligation to insure title to real property once its stated requirements have been met.

Discuss with your title insurer the best means to protect your interests.

How do I go about clearing unwanted liens and encumbrances?

You will wish to carefully review the preliminary report. Should the title to the property be clouded, you and your agents will work with the seller and the seller's agents to clear the unwanted liens and encumbrances prior to taking title.

Who can I turn to for further information regarding Preliminary Reports?

Your real estate agent and your attorney, should you choose to use one, will help explain the preliminary report to you. Your escrow and title company can also be helpful sources.

CONCLUSION: In a business which is directed at risk elimination, the efforts leading to the production of the preliminary report, which is designed to facilitate the issuance of a policy of title insurance, is perhaps the most important function undertaken.

Required Reporting to the I.R.S.+

Sellers of real property will have certain information regarding the sale reported to the Internal Revenue Service.

This required reporting is a consequence of the Tax Reform Act of 1986; it is intended to encourage taxpayer compliance and aid in audit and enforcement efforts by the I.R.S.

To help you better understand this subject, the Land Title Association has answered some of the questions most commonly asked about Required Reporting to the I.R.S.

Who is required to report to the I.R.S.?

Sellers of real property, under guidelines established by the I.R.S., are required to have their gross proceeds from the sale reported on a Form 1099S. When a settlement agent is used, the I.R.S. makes this agent responsible for the delivery of the information on the Form 1099S.

The settlement agent generally will be the escrow agent or title company; however, it may be an attorney, real estate broker or other person providing settlement services.

What is an I.R.S. Form 1099S, and what will be reported?

The Form 1099S is the reporting form adopted by the I.R.S. for submitting the information required by law.

The information will be transferred onto magnetic media by the settlement agent who will store the information and make the required report to the I.R.S. The settlement agent is also responsible for keeping a master copy of all transactions reported.

In general, information required by the I.R.S. falls into the following categories

  1. The name, address and taxpayer ID number (social security or tax identification number) of the seller(s)
  2. A general description of the property (in most cases an address)
  3. The closing date of the transaction
  4. The gross proceeds of the transaction (even though gross proceeds do not correspond to taxable income)
  5. Any property involved as part of the transaction other than cash or cash equivalent
  6. The name, address and taxpayer identification number of the settlement agent.

On what type of transactions is a Form 1099S required?

Currently, typical homeowner transactions covered include sales and exchanges of 1-4 family residential properties such as houses, townhouses, and condominiums. Also reportable is stock in cooperative housing corporations and mobile homes without wheels.

Specifically excluded from reporting are foreclosures and abandonment of real property and financing or refinancing of properties.

What happens if the seller(s) refuses to provide the taxpayer identification number for the Form 1099S?

Should the seller fail to provide the identification number and certify its correctness, the settlement agent may choose to:

  1. Delay the closing of the transactions until the information is furnished, or
  2. Complete the transaction and report to the I.R.S. that an attempt was made to obtain the information from the seller.

How is the sale reported when there is more than one seller involved or when multiple sellers do not own equal interests in the property?

Multiple sellers may allocate the gross proceeds among themselves for purposes of reporting. If there is no allocation, an incomplete allocation or conflicting allocations, then the entire gross proceeds will be reported for each seller.

Where can I go for further information on taxation of real property?

The I.R.S. provides free publications that explain the tax aspects of real estate transactions. You may wish to order:

Publication #523 "Tax Information on Selling Your Home"

Publication #530 "Tax Information for Home Owners"

Publication #544 "Sales and Other Dispositions of Assets"

Publication #551 "Basis of Assets"

To place your order, phone toll-free (800) 829-3676

Statements of Information+

What's in a name?

When a title company seeks to uncover matters affecting title to real property, the answer is, "Quite a bit."

Statements of Information provide title companies with the information they need to distinguish the buyers and sellers of real property from others with similar names. After identifying the true buyers and sellers, title companies may disregard the judgments, liens or other matters on the public records under similar names.

To help you better understand this sensitive subject, the Land Title Association has answered some of the questions most commonly asked about Statements of Information.

What is a Statement of Information?

A Statement of Information is a form routinely requested from the buyer, seller and borrower in a transaction where title insurance is sought. The completed form provides the title company with information needed to adequately examine documents so as to disregard matters which do not affect the property to be insured, matters which actually apply to some other person.

What does a Statement of Information do?

Every day documents affecting real property--liens, court decrees, bankruptcies--are recorded.

Whenever a title company uncovers a recorded document in which the name is the same or similar to that of the buyer, seller or borrower in a title transaction, the title company must ask, "Does this document affect the parties we are insuring?" Because, if it does, it affects title to the property and would, therefore, be listed as an exception from coverage under the title policy.

A properly completed Statement of Information will allow the title company to differentiate between parties with the same or similar names when searching documents recorded by name. This protects all parties involved and allows the title company to competently carry out its duties without unnecessary delay.

What types of information are requested in a Statement of Information?

The information requested is personal in nature, but not unnecessarily so. The information requested is essential to avoid delays in closing the transaction.

You, and your spouse if you are married, will be asked to provide full name, social security number, year of birth, birthplace, and information or citizenship. If you are married, you will be asked the date and place of your marriage.

Residence and employment information will be requested, as will information regarding previous marriages if you are divorced.

Will the information I supply be kept confidential?

The information you supply is completely confidential and only for title company use in completing the search of records necessary before a policy of title insurance can be issued.

What happens if a buyer, seller or borrower fails to provide the requested Statement of Information?

At best, failure to provide the requested Statement of Information will hinder the search and examination capabilities of the title company, causing delay in the production of your title policy.

At worst, failure to provide the information requested could prohibit the close of your escrow. Without a Statement of Information, it would be necessary for the title company to list as exceptions from coverage judgments, liens or other matters which may affect the property to be insured. Such exceptions would be unacceptable to most lenders, whose interest must also be insured.

Conclusion

Title companies make every attempt in issuing a policy of title insurance to identify known risks affecting your property and to efficiently and correctly transfer title so as to protect your interests as a homebuyer

By properly completing a Statement of Information, you allow the title company to provide the service you need with the assurance of confidentiality.

Title Insurance Requirements for Insuring Trusts+

In today's world of busy probate courts and exorbitant death taxes, the living trust has become a common manner of holding title to real property. The following may help you understand a few of the requirements of the title insurance industry if title to property is conveyed to the trustee of a living trust.

What is a trust?

An agreement between a trustor and trustee for the trustee to hold title to and administer designated assets of the trustor for the use and benefit of one or more beneficiaries.

Can a trust itself acquire and convey interests in real property?

No. The trust is an arrangement between a trustee and the trustor. Only the trustee, on behalf of the trust, may own and convey any interest in real property. The trustee may only exercise the powers granted in the trust.

What will the title company require if a trustee holds the title to the property which is part of the trust?

First, a certification that the Trust and amendments (if any) are complete, the names of the present trustees of the trust, and a statement that the trustees are empowered by the trust to complete the proposed transaction.

Second, at the discretion of the title company, a full copy of the trust and any amendments.

My trust contains certain amounts of money to be given to various charities which is none of your business. Can I omit these pages?

Because many different provisions may be on the same page, the answer must be no -- but if the title company requires a copy of the trust, it may accept a copy with those amounts blacked out.

If there is more than one trustee, can just one sign?

Maybe. The trust must specifically provide for less than all to sign.

Can the trustee give someone a power-of-attorney?

Only if the trust specifically provides for the appointment of an attorney-in-fact

What will the title company require if all the trustees have died or are unwilling to act?

If the trustor is not able to do so, or the trust provisions prohibit the trustor from appointing a new trustee, the court may do so.

How does a notary acknowledge the signature of the trustee?

Title is vested in the trustee. Hence, if the trustee is an individual or a corporation, then the new general form of acknowledgment will be prepared to reflect the intrinsic nature of the trustee.

How would the deed to the trustee ordinarily be worded to transfer title to the trustee?

"John Doe and Mary Doe, as trustees of the Doe family trust, under declaration of trust dated January 1,1992."

Are there any limitations on what a trustee may do?

Yes, the trustee is limited principally and most importantly by the provisions of the trust and, thus, may only act within the terms of the trust. The probate code contains general powers which, unless limited by the trust agreement, are sufficient for title insurers to rely on for sale, conveyance, and refinance purposes.

Title Insurance When Refinancing Your Loan+

Lower interest rates have motivated you to refinance your home loan. The lower rate may save you a tremendous amount of money over the life of the loan, but you should also expect to pay the lender the typical closing costs associated with any new loan, including service fees, points, title insurance protection and other expenses.

Why do I need to purchase a new title insurance policy on a refinanced loan?

To the lender, a refinance loan is no different than any other home loan. So, your lender will want to insure that their new loan is protected by title insurance, just as the original lender required. Therefore, when you refinance you are buying a title policy to protect your lender.

Why does a Lender need title insurance?

Most lenders generate loans and then immediately sell those loans to secondary market investors, such as FannieMae.

FannieMae, in order to protect its security interest in the loan, requires title insurance coverage. Even those lenders who keep original loans in their portfolio are wise to get a lenders policy to protect their investment against title related defects.

When I purchased my home, didn't I also buy a lender's policy?

Perhaps. Who pays for the lender's policy on a purchase loan varies regionally and by the terms of individual contracts.

However, even if you did buy a lender's policy when you purchased your home, the lender's policy remains in force only during the life of the loan that was insured. If you refinance, the old loan is paid off (the "life" of the loan expires) and a new loan is issued for which the lender will require a new title insurance policy.

What about my original title insurance policy?

When you bought your home, you purchased a Homeowners title policy. The Homeowners’ policy stays in force as long as you or your heirs own the home. When you refinance, your lender will often require that you purchase a new lender's policy to protect their new security interest in the property. Thus, you are buying a policy to protect your lender, not a new Homeowner's policy.

What could possibly have happened since I purchased my home which warrants a new lender's policy?

Since the time that the original loan was made, you may have taken out a second trust deed on the house or had mechanic's liens, child support liens or legal judgments recorded against you - events that could result in serious financial losses to an unprotected lender. Regardless if it has been only 6 months or less since you purchased or refinanced your home, a myriad of title defects could have occurred. While you may not have any title defects, many Homeowners do. The only way for a lender to adequately protect itself is to get a new lender's policy each time you purchase or refinance your home.

Are there any discounts available for title insurance on a refinance transaction?

Yes. Title companies offer a refinance transaction discount or a short-term rate. Discounts may also be available if you use the same lender for your refinance loan and your original loan. Be sure to ask your title company how they can save you money.

Creative financing+

Creative financing: You've heard of it, and, as a seller, the idea sounds pretty attractive. But, do you know everything you need to know about carrying back a second; essentially, about becoming a lender? You better know the same things that financial institutions know - you better know about lender's title insurance.

It's time to sell your $150,000 home, a home that you have owned for fifteen years, a home in which you have substantial equity. The loan terms call for a $20,000 down payment from your buyer, a new $100,000 loan from a local savings and loan, and for you, the seller, to carry back a note for the remaining $30,000.

Will you, the seller, need title insurance?

Yes, you will. Everyone who retains an interest in the property needs title insurance. When you took on the role of lender, you retained a record title interest which you will want to protect for the term of the loan.

But, why would you need lender's title insurance when the repayment of your loan is assured by a lien in the form of a recorded deed of trust against the property? What could possibly go wrong?

You must insure yourself for the same reason that financial institutions obtain title insurance - for the protection of your investment. You must be assured that your lien on the property cannot be defeated by a prior lien or other interest in the property, which, if exercised, would wipe out your security.

Anything that involves the new buyer's ownership rights to the property is of direct interest to you because you are holding the second mortgage. If such ownership rights are in question or defective, you may have trouble collecting your monthly mortgage payments. But, you say, there is nothing in your property's history that could cause problems: no problems with easements, no problems with boundaries, no problems with rights-of-way.

Contrary to what may be popular belief, these matters are not the only source of title problems; a large proportion of title problems arise out of man's interaction with man. The fact of a marriage, a divorce, a death, a forgery, a judgment for money damages, a failure to pay state or federal taxes - these occurrences can and usually will affect your rights as a mortgage lender.

As an example of what can befall the lender, did you know that a federal tax lien recorded against your "buyer" before the loan transaction is concluded may result in the loss of security in "your" home? Sophisticated mortgage lenders are aware of this possibility as well as many others which could jeopardize their loan security and seek the protection afforded by a lender's title insurance policy.

If you are considering carrying back a second, be sure to get all the facts regarding the benefits of lender's title insurance. Your local title insurance company should be happy to provide the information you need.

Mortgage Loan Information

Your Savings and Down Payment+

Your First Step Toward Buying a Home

When preparing to buy a home, the first thing many Homebuyers do is look at "homes for sale" ads in newspapers, magazines and listings on the internet. Some potential buyers read "how-to" articles like this one. The next thing you should do - before you call on an ad, before you talk to a Realtor, before you shop for interest rates - is look at your savings.

Why?

Because determining how much money you have available for down payment and closing costs affects almost every aspect of buying a home - including how you write your purchase offer, the loan programs you qualify for, and shopping for interest rates.

Mortgage Programs

If you only have enough available for a minimum down payment, your choices of loan program will be limited to only a few types of mortgages. If someone is giving you a gift for all or part of the down payment, your options are also limited. If you have enough for the down payment, but need the lender or seller to cover all or part of your closing costs, this further limits your options. If you borrow all or a portion of the down payment from your 401K or retirement plan, different loan programs have different rules on how you qualify.

Of course, if you have enough for a large down payment, then you have lots of choices.

Your loan choices include such varied programs as conventional fixed rate loans, adjustable rate mortgages, buydowns, VA, FHA, graduated payment mortgages and all the varieties of each.

Shopping Rates

A very important reason you need to have at least some idea of your down payment is for shopping interest rates. Some loan programs charge a slightly higher interest rate for minimal down payments. Plus, the interest rates for different loan programs are not the same. For example, conventional, VA, and FHA all offer fixed rate loans. However, the rates vary from one program to another.

If you shop lenders by phone, the loan officer will be able to tell which programs fit and quote you rates accordingly. However, if you are shopping on the internet, you have to have some idea of your loan program on your own.

Writing Your Offer

Another reason you need to have a clue about your down payment is because it affects how you write your offer to purchase a home. Not only are you required to put your down payment information in the offer, but different loan programs have different rules which also affect how you write your offer. This is especially important when dealing with FHA and VA loans.

If you are asking the seller to pay all or part of your closing costs, you have to be certain your loan program allows what you are asking. For smaller down payments, lenders allow the seller to pay less closing costs than for larger down payments. Some loan programs will allow a seller to pay certain types of costs, but not others.

Finally, your down payment also affects your ability to qualify for a loan. When you make a small down payment, lenders are fairly strict about having you conform to their underwriting guidelines. For larger down payments, they will tend to make allowances or exceptions to the rules.

Conclusion

As you can see, the down payment affects every choice you make when you buy a home. Although you should look at ads, familiarize yourself with neighborhoods, learn about prices, and read as much as you can - when you get ready to take action - the first thing you should do is figure out how much money you have available for the purchase.

Documenting Your Assets - Verifying Your Down Payment+

When buying a home, it is not enough to just "come up" with the money. With the exception of "no asset verification" loans, lenders want to verify where the money comes from. If you can document the funds comes from your personal savings, the lender is more confident of your strength as a borrower.

In addition, if you can verify you have additional assets that are not needed for the down payment, it is important to document those, too. Additional assets are "reserves" you can draw upon during times of trouble, such as unemployment, medical emergencies, and similar occurrences. Additional assets can also help to document that you have a history of saving money, which makes you a more dependable borrower.

It is extremely important to completely document the paper trail of any funds you use for down payment and closing costs. The sections below provide guidance on both verifying assets and documenting them as a source of your down payment.

Checking, Savings, & Money Market Accounts

The quickest and easiest way to document funds in your bank account is to provide your lender with copies of your most recent bank statements. Most lenders request two months bank statements, but some still ask for three. Some lenders still send a "Verification of Deposit" to your bank in order to determine your current bank balances and average balance for the last two months. However, that is the old way of doing business and most lenders nowadays prefer to have bank statements.

If the money you are using for the down payment and closing costs has been in the bank for the entire period covered by the bank statements, you're fine. These are known as "seasoned funds." However, if your statements show any large or unusual deposits the lender will ask you to explain them and document their source.

Stocks, Bonds, Mutual Funds, etc.

Most of those who own stocks get a monthly or quarterly statement from their brokerage. You will need to supply statements for the most recent sixty or ninety days in order to document these assets.

Though it is rare nowadays, some people actually have stock certificates instead of having a brokerage account. When this is the situation, make copies of the certificates and provide those copies to your lender. You might also want to supply tax records to indicate you have owned these stocks for some time.

If part of your down payment will come from the sale of stocks and investments, you will need to keep all documentation that applies to the sale. Provide these copies to your lender as well.

Gifts

Especially when buying a first home, some borrowers need help coming up with the down payment. This help should come in the form of a gift from a close family member. Lenders will require the donors to sign a special form called a "gift letter." The gift letter states the relationship between the parties, the address of the purchased property, the amount of the gift, and sometimes the source of the funds used to make the gift. The gift letter also clearly states that the funds are a gift and not required to be repaid.

With most lenders, the donor will have to also provide evidence that they have the ability to make the gift. This can be in the form of a bank or stock statement to show they have the funds available. You should also make a copy of the check used to make the gift and keep a copy of the deposit receipt when you deposit the gift funds into your bank account or escrow.

401K or Retirement Accounts

It is important to provide documentation about your retirement accounts or 401K programs because this is another asset you could draw upon as reserves in case of a problem. It is also another way to show you have a savings history. Just provide a copy of your most recent statement to your lender.

Many people use these accounts as a source of funds for their down payment, too. Some employers allow you to "cash out" a portion of the 401K and some allow you to borrow against it. Be sure to keep copies of all paperwork involving the transaction. If they cut you a check, be sure to make a photocopy of that, too, including any receipt for deposit into your personal bank account.

If you are borrowing against your 401K, some lenders will count this as an additional debt to go along with car payments, credit cards and other obligations. This may seem kind of silly because you are borrowing your own money, but from the lender's viewpoint it is still a monthly obligation that you must come up with and should be taken into account. If you are "tight" on your debt-to-income ratios in qualifying for a home loan, this could be an important consideration. It may affect whether you choose to cash out the account and pay any tax penalty, or simply borrow against it.

Employers

Some companies provide down payment assistance for their employees. They may feel that Homeowners are more stable and reliable employees, or that providing down payment assistance fosters an environment of higher morale and loyalty to the firm. Just make copies of all the paperwork, including a copy of the check and the receipt when you deposit the funds into your personal bank account. It is important that these funds do not require repayment.

Savings Bonds

If you have Savings Bonds, they are a financial asset, too. Since you hold the actual bonds in your possession, the easiest and best way to verify them for your mortgage lender is to make photocopies of them. If you choose to cash them in for down payment or closing costs, you should do this at your local bank. Be sure to keep copies of the paperwork the bank provides because that will establish the current value of the bonds and show that you received their cash value.

Personal Property - Cars, Antiques, etc.

Personal property includes automobiles, vehicles, boats, furniture, collections, heirlooms, antiques, art, clothing, and practically everything you own except for real estate. The mortgage application asks you to estimate the value for these items.

The larger the loan amount, the more important it is for you to provide details on your personal property. This is because larger loans usually indicate larger incomes, and lenders check to see if your personal property matches your income. If it does not, this sends a "red flag" to the underwriter and they take a closer look at your application.

You are not required to document the value of personal property unless you intend to sell them to come up with your down payment.

Selling Personal Property

For those Homebuyers who do sell personal property in order to come up with their down payment, the verification process can be arduous. Lenders are much stricter about documenting this method of coming up with your source of funds.

Selling a car is perhaps the easiest to document. First, you need to photocopy the registration that shows you actually own the vehicle. You will have to provide a copy of the page in the "Blue Book" that shows your model and its value. Then you need to photocopy the bill of sale showing the transfer to another individual and a copy of the check used to purchase the vehicle. Do not get paid in cash because that makes it impossible to show you actually received the funds. Make a copy of the receipt when you deposit the funds into the bank.

Other types of personal property are more difficult because you have to show that you actually own the property and that it actually has the value that you sold it for. This is a little harder to do for most assets than it is for automobiles.

If you have records to show you purchased the property, that would be helpful. You could also provide an old inventory that documents ownership. To determine value, you may have to contract with an independent appraiser or a specialist who has the knowledge for that particular type of property.

If you cannot document the item's value, the lender will not view the sale as an acceptable source of funds. Just like selling a car, you have to prove you own the item, make a copy of the bill of sale, copy the check used to purchase the item, and make a copy of your receipt when you deposit the funds into your bank.

The Biweekly Mortgage - Who Needs It?+

Have you received an advertisement offering to save you thousands of dollars on your thirty-year mortgage and cut years off your payments? With email "spam" becoming more pervasive as everyone tries to "get rich quick" on the internet, these ads are popping up with troublesome regularity.

The ads promote the "Biweekly Mortgage" and for the most part, do not come from a mortgage lender. Exclamation points punctuate practically every claim:

  • No closing costs!
  • No refinancing!
  • No points!
  • No credit check!
  • No appraisal!
  • Save thousands!
  • Cut years off your mortgage!

To achieve these wonderful savings all you have to do is allow half of your mortgage payment to be deducted from your checking account every two weeks. It's easy. Of course, there is a small "set-up fee" and usually a "transaction fee" with every automatic deduction.

Essentially, the ads are truthful in almost every respect.

They just want to charge you money for something you can do on your own for free

The Basics:

Normally, you make twelve mortgage payments a year. Since there are fifty-two weeks in a year, a biweekly mortgage equals 26 half-payments a year. The equivalent would be making thirteen mortgage payments a year instead of twelve. By applying that extra payment directly to the loan balance as a principal reduction, your loan amortizes more quickly, requiring fewer payments.

You save money. The ads are true.

How it Actually Works:

You cannot simply mail in half a payment every two weeks to your mortgage lender. Since they do not accept partial payments for legal and accounting reasons, the mortgage company would just mail your half-payment back to you.

Instead, the biweekly mortgage company is an intermediary between you and your mortgage lender. They automatically debit your checking account every two weeks for half of your mortgage payment, then place your funds into a trust account. Basically, this is just a holding account for your money. In another two weeks, there is another automatic deduction from your checking account, and so on. When your mortgage payment is due, your funds are withdrawn from the trust account and forwarded to your mortgage lender.

Since you are placing funds into the trust account faster than your mortgage payments are due, you eventually accumulate enough money to make an "extra" payment. The way the cycle works, this occurs once a year. The extra payment is applied directly to your principal balance, which causes your loan to amortize faster, pay off more quickly and save you thousands of dollars.

Potential Problems with the Trust Account

Because your funds are held in the trust account until your mortgage payment is due, there are potential dangers. Not only are your funds held in this account, but so are the funds of everyone else enrolled in the biweekly program. That is a lot of money.

Most likely, there will be no problems

However, if there are accounting errors, mismanagement, or even fraud, your mortgage payment might not get made. The first hint of a problem will probably be a phone call or letter from your mortgage lender, but not until after your payment is already late. Since responsibility for making the payment rests with you and not the biweekly payment company, you may find yourself digging into your personal savings to make the payment directly -- even though the biweekly payment company has already collected your funds.

Later you can work out the trust account problem with your biweekly payment company.

The Cost of the Biweekly Mortgage

There is usually a set-up fee that runs between $195 and $350, depending on how much sales commission is paid to the individual or company setting up the account for you. You also pay a transaction fee each time there is an automatic deduction from your checking account and sometimes also when the payment is made to your mortgage lender. There may also be a periodic "maintenance fee."

Meanwhile, whoever controls the trust account is earning interest on your money.

Savings of the Biweekly Mortgage

By making principal reductions using the biweekly mortgage program, your mortgage will amortize more quickly, saving you money. How quickly your loan pays off depends on your interest rate and when you begin making the biweekly payments.

On a $100,000 loan at today's interest rate of eight percent, your first principal reduction would probably be a year from now. Assuming the principal reduction is equal to one monthly payment ($733.76), you would save $43,852 over the life of the loan and pay it off almost seven years early.

However, you have to deduct from those savings any amounts you paid in set-up, transaction, and maintenance fees.

No-Cost Alternatives to the Biweekly Mortgage

Instead of hiring a company to manage your biweekly payment, you could accomplish essentially the same thing on your own for free. Just take your monthly payment, divide it by twelve, and add that amount to your monthly mortgage payment. Be sure to earmark it as a principal reduction.

The first way you save is that you do not have to pay any fees to anyone. It's free.

In addition to not paying fees -- using the same example as above -- your total savings on the mortgage would be $45,904. Plus the loan would be paid off three months quicker than with the biweekly mortgage. The reason you save more is because you are making a principal reduction each month, instead of waiting for funds to accumulate so that you can make one principal reduction a year.

Self-Discipline?

The biweekly mortgage companies claim that homeowners are not disciplined enough to follow through with principal reduction plans on their own. They suggest the reason for setting up the biweekly mortgage enforces discipline upon you, and by doing so, they save you money.

However, in this internet age, banking on line and automatic deductions are readily available. You can set up your own automatic deductions including the additional principal reduction and have it go directly to your mortgage lender. Since the deduction occurs automatically, just like with the biweekly mortgages, self-discipline is not a problem. Once again, you don't have to pay anyone to do it for you and you save even more money.

Conclusion

The biweekly mortgage plans do not really do anything except move your money around and charge you for it. Plus, even though the danger is negligible, you must trust someone else to hold your money for you. If you can do the very same thing for free, plus save yourself even more money by doing it on your own, why pay someone else?

The biweekly mortgage plan - who needs it?

If your goal is principal reduction and saving money, then it is a good plan. If you do it on your own instead of paying someone else to do it for you, then it is a great plan.

Closing Costs When Buying or Refinancing a Home+

This is a detailed summary of costs you may have to pay when you buy or refinance your home. They are listed in the order that they should appear on a Good Faith Estimate you obtain from a mortgage lender. There are two broad categories of closing costs. Non-recurring closing costs are items that are paid once and you never pay again. Recurring closing costs are items you pay time and again over the course of home ownership, such as property taxes and homeowner's insurance. Some of the items that appear here do not traditionally appear on a lender's Good Faith Estimate and lenders are not required to show all of these items.

Non-Recurring Closing Costs Associated with the Lender.

Loan Origination Fee - The loan origination fee is often referred to as "points." One point is equal to one percent of the mortgage loan. As a rule, if you are willing to pay more in points, you will get a lower interest rate. On a VA or FHA loan, the loan origination fee is one point. Anything in addition to one point is called "discount points."

Loan Discount - On a government loan, the loan origination fee is normally listed as one point or one percent of the loan. Any points in addition to the loan origination fee are called "discount points." On a conventional loan, discount points are usually lumped in with the loan origination fee.

Appraisal Fee - Since your property serves as collateral for the mortgage, lenders want to be reasonably certain of the value and they require an appraisal. The appraisal looks to determine if the price you are paying for the home is justified by recent sales of comparable properties. The appraisal fee varies, depending on the value of the home and the difficulty involved in justifying value. Unique and more expensive homes usually have a higher appraisal fee. Appraisal fees on VA loans are higher than on conventional loans.

Credit Report - As part of the underwriting review, your mortgage lender will want to review your credit history. The credit report can be as little as seven dollars, but normally runs between $21 and $60, depending upon the type of credit report required by your lender.

Lender's Inspection Fee - You normally find this on new construction and is associated with what is called a 442 inspection. Since the property is not finished when the initial appraisal is completed, the 442 inspection verifies that construction is complete with carpeting and flooring installed.

Mortgage Broker Fee - About seventy percent of loans are originated through mortgage brokers and they will sometimes list your points in this area instead of under Loan Origination Fee. They may also add in any broker processing fees in this area. The purpose is so that you clearly understand how much is being charged by the wholesale lender and how much is charged by the broker. Wholesale lenders offer lower costs/rates to mortgage brokers than you can obtain directly, so you are not paying "extra" by going through a mortgage broker.

Tax Service Fee - During the life of your loan you will be making property tax payments, either on your own or through your impound account with the lender. Since property tax liens can sometimes take precedence over a first mortgage, it is in your lender's interest to pay an independent service to monitor property tax payments. This fee usually runs between $70 and $80.

Flood Certification Fee - Your lender must determine whether or not your property is located in a federally designated flood zone. This is a fee usually charged by an independent service to make that determination.

Flood Monitoring - From time to time flood zones are re-mapped. Some lenders charge this fee to maintain monitoring on whether this re-mapping affects your property.

Other Lender Fees

We put these in a separate category because they vary so much from lender to lender and cannot be associated directly with a cost of the loan. These fees generate income for the lenders and are used to offset the fixed costs of loan origination. The Processing Fee above can also be considered to be in this category, but since it is listed higher on the Good Faith Estimate Form we did not also include it here. You will normally find some combination of these fees on your Good Faith Estimate and the total usually varies between $400 and $700.

Document Preparation - Before computers made it fairly easy for lenders to draw their own loan documents, they used to hire specialized document preparation firms for this function. This was the fee charged by those companies. Nowadays, lenders draw their own documents. This fee is charged on almost all loans and is usually in the neighborhood of $200.

Underwriting Fee - Once again, it is difficult to determine the exact cost of underwriting a loan since the underwriter is usually a paid staff member. This fee is usually in the neighborhood of $300 to $350.

Administration Fee - If an Administration Fee is charged, you will probably find there is no Underwriting Fee. This is not always the case.

Appraisal Review Fee - Even though you will probably not see this fee on your Good Faith Estimate, it is charged occasionally. Some lenders routinely review appraisals as a quality control procedure, especially on higher valued properties. The fee can vary from $75 to $150.

Warehousing Fee - This is rarely charged and begins to border on the ridiculous. However, some lenders have a warehouse line of credit and add this as a charge to the borrower.

Items Required to be Paid in Advance

Pre-paid Interest - Mortgage loans are usually due on the first of each month. Since loans can close on any day, a certain amount of interest must be paid at closing to get the interest paid up to the first. For example, if you close on the twentieth, you will pay ten days of pre-paid interest.

Homeowner's Insurance - This is the insurance you pay to cover possible damages to your home and other items. If you buy a home, you will normally pay the first year's insurance when you close the transaction. If you are buying a condominium, your Homeowners' Association Fees normally cover this insurance.

VA Funding Fee - On VA loans, the Veterans Administration charges a fee for guaranteeing your loan. If you have not used your VA eligibility in the past, this is two percent of the loan balance. If you have used your VA eligibility before, it is three percent of the loan. If you are refinancing from a VA loan to a VA loan, it is three-quarters of a percent of the loan amount. Instead of actually paying this as an out-of-pocket expense, most veterans choose to finance it, so it gets added to the loan balance. This is why the loan balance on VA loans can be higher than the actual purchase amount.

Up Front Mortgage Insurance Premium (UFMIP) - This is charged on FHA purchases of single family residences (SFR's) or Planned Unit Developments (PUDs) and is 2.25% of the loan balance. Like the VA Funding Fee it is normally added to the balance of the loan. Unlike a VA loan, the homebuyer must also pay a monthly mortgage insurance fee, too. This is why many lenders do not recommend FHA loans if the homebuyer can qualify for a conventional loan. However, condominium purchases do not require the UFMIP.

Mortgage Insurance - Though it is rare nowadays, some first-time homebuyer programs still require the first year mortgage insurance premium to be paid in advance. Most mortgage insurance (when required) is simply paid monthly along with your mortgage payment. Mortgage insurance covers the lender and covers a portion of the losses in those cases where borrowers default on their loans.

Reserves Deposited with Lender

If you make a minimum down payment, you may be required to deposit funds into an impound account. Funds in this account are your funds, and the lender uses them to make the payments on your Homeowner's insurance, property taxes, and mortgage insurance (whichever is applicable). Each month, in addition to your mortgage payment, you provide additional funds which are deposited into your impound account.

The lender's goal is to always have sufficient funds to pay your bills as they come due. Sometimes impound accounts are not required, but borrowers request one voluntarily. A few lenders even offer to reduce your loan origination fee if you obtain an impound account. However, if you are disciplined about paying your bills and an impound account is not required, you can probably earn a better rate of return by putting the funds into a savings account. Impound accounts are sometimes referred to as escrow accounts.

Homeowners Insurance Impounds - your lender will divide your annual premium by twelve to come up with an estimated monthly amount for you to pay into your impound account. Since a lender is allowed to keep two months of reserves in your account, you will have to deposit two months into the impound account to start it up.

Property Tax Impounds - How much you will have to deposit towards taxes to start up your impound account varies according to when you close your real estate transaction. For example, you may close in November and property taxes are due in December. Your deposit would be higher than for someone closing in May.

Mortgage Insurance Impounds - When required, most lenders allow this to simply be paid monthly. However, you may be required to put two months worth of mortgage insurance as an initial deposit into your impound account.

Non-Recurring Closing Costs not associated with the Lender

Closing/Escrow/Settlement Fee - Methods of closing a real estate transaction vary from state to state, as do the fees. For purchases, a general rule of thumb that usually works in calculating this closing cost is $200 plus $2 for every thousand dollars in price. For refinances there is usually a flat fee around $400 to $500.

Title Insurance - Title Insurance assures the homeowner that they have clear title to the property. The lender also requires it to insure that their new mortgage loan will be in first position. The costs vary depending on whether you are purchasing a home or refinancing a home, so we will not provide a range here.

Notary Fees - Most sets of loan documents have two or three forms that must be notarized. Usually your settlement or escrow agent will arrange for you to sign these forms at their office and charge a notary fee in the neighborhood of $40.

Recording Fees - Certain documents get recorded with your local county recorder. Fees vary regionally, but probably run between $40 and $75.

Pest Inspection - also referred to as a Termite Inspection. This inspection tests not only for pest infestations, but also other items such as wood rot and water damage. The inspection usually runs around $75. If repairs are required, the amount to cover those repairs can vary. The seller will usually pay for the most serious repairs, but this is a negotiable item. Usually (not always) the pest inspection fee is paid by the seller of the home and is not normally reflected on the Good Faith Estimate.

Home Inspection - Since it is the Homebuyer's choice to obtain a home inspection or not, this cost is not usually reflected on a Good Faith Estimate. However, it is recommended. Keep in mind that the home inspector has a certain set of standards he uses when inspecting a home, and those standards may be higher than required by local building codes. An example is that an inspector may note there is no spark arrestor on a chimney but the local building code may not require it. This sometimes leads to conflicts between buyer and seller.

Home Warranty - This is also an optional item and not normally included on the Good Faith Estimate. A Home Warranty usually covers such items as the major appliances, should they break down within a specific time. Often this is paid by the seller.

Refinancing Associated Costs (but not charged by the new Lender)

Interest - When you close the transaction on your refinance, there will most likely be some outstanding interest due on the old loan. For example, if you close on August twentieth (and you made your last payment), you will have twenty days interest due on the old loan and ten days prepaid interest on the new loan. Your first payment on the new loan would not be until October 1st since you have already paid all of August's interest when you closed the refinance transaction (since interest is paid in arrears, a September payment would have paid August's interest, which has already been paid in closing).

Reconveyance Fee - this fee is charged by your existing lender when they "reconvey" their collateral interest in your property back to you through recording of a Reconveyance. This fee can vary from $75 to $125.

Demand Fee - your existing lender may charge a fee for calculating payoff figures. If they do, this fee may run in the neighborhood of $60.

Sub-Escrow fee - though it sounds like an escrow fee, this fee is actually charged by the Title Company (and I've never been able to figure out exactly what it is for). Assume it is an income-generating fee similar to some of the lender fees mentioned above. Title representatives who want to explain this fee can send us an email.

Loan Tie-in Fee - though it sounds like a lender fee, this cost is actually charged by the Escrow Company (like the sub-escrow fee, I've never been able to understand this fee, either). Escrow officers who want to explain this fee can also send an email.

Homeowner's Association Transfer Fee - If you are buying a condominium or a home with a Homeowner's Association, the association often charges a fee to transfer all of their ownership documents to you.

Asking the Seller to Pay Closing Costs - Rules and Advice.

It has become common to ask the seller to pay some or all of the closing costs when you purchase a home. Essentially, this is financing your closing costs since you will probably pay a little bit more for the property than you would if you were paying your own costs.

Keep in mind a few simple rules. On conventional loans you can only ask the seller to pay non-recurring costs, not prepaids or items to be paid in advance. If you are putting ten percent down or more, the most the seller can contribute is six percent of the purchase price. If you are putting less down, the most the seller can contribute is three percent.

On VA loans, you can ask the seller to pay everything. This is called a "VA No-No," meaning the buyer is making no down payment and paying no closing costs.

On FHA loans, the seller can pay almost any cost, but the buyer has to have a minimum three percent investment in the home/closing costs.

Most refinances include the closing costs and prepaids in the new loan amount, requiring little or no out-of-pocket expenses to close the deal.

If you didn't get bored as you read through this, now you know everything...a lot, anyway...about closing costs.

Which ARM is the Best Alternative?+

How would you like a mortgage loan where you did not have to make the whole payment if you did not want to? Or would you like a loan with an interest rate about one percent below a thirty-year fixed rate mortgage and pay zero points? Or a loan where you did not have to document your income, savings history, or source of down payment? How would you like a mortgage payment of only 2.95 percent? You can have all that with the 11th District Cost of Funds (COFI) Adjustable Rate Mortgage.

Sound too good to be true? Sound like a bunch of hype?

Each statement above is true. However, it is also only part of the story and loan officers do not always tell you the whole story when promoting this loan. Then other loan officer try to scare you away from the adjustable rate mortgages. However, once you become aware of all the details of the loan, it is an excellent way to buy the house of your dreams, especially when fixed rates begin to go up.

ARMs in General

Adjustable rate mortgages all have certain similar features. They have an adjustment period, an index, a margin, and a rate cap. The adjustment period is simply how often the rate changes. Some change monthly, some change every six months, and some only adjust once a year. Indexes are simply an easily monitored interest rate that moves up and down over time. Adjustable rate mortgages have different indexes. The margin is the difference between your interest rate and the index. The margin does not change during the term of the loan.

So if you have an adjustable rate mortgage and you wanted to calculate your interest rate on your own, all you have to do is look up the index in the paper or on the internet, add the margin, and you have your rate.

Indexes and the 11th District

The "Prime Rate" you hear about in the news is one interest rate index, although it is very rare that mortgages are tied to this index. It is more common to find adjustable rate mortgages tied to different treasury bill indexes, the average interest rate paid on certificates of deposit, the London Inter-Bank Offered Rate (LIBOR), and the 11th District Cost of Funds. Currently, the Cost of Funds Index is the lowest of these indexes, though this is not always true.

To simplify, the 11th District Cost of Funds (COFI) is the weighted average of interest rates paid out on savings deposits by banking institutions in the the 11th district of the Federal Home Loan Bank (FHLB), which is located in San Francisco. The 11th District includes the states of California, Nevada, and Arizona.

The COFI index moves slower than the other indexes, making it more stable. It also lags behind actual changes in the interest rate market. For example, when rates begin to go up, the COFI index may continue to decline for a couple of months before it also begins to rise. However, when interest rates start to decline, the COFI index may continue to go up for another couple of months, too. It lags behind the market.

The Margin and Interest Rates

The margin on the COFI ARM can be on either side of 2.5%. For example the COFI index as of July 31, 1998 is 4.504%. With a margin of 2.44%, your interest rate would be 6.944%. During this same time, thirty year fixed rate loans on conforming mortgages are close to eight percent. Fixed rates on jumbo loans (above $240,000) are higher.

Monthly Adjustments Sound Scary, but...

Although you can get a COFI ARM with an adjustable period of six months, you can get a lower margin if you go for the monthly adjustment period. Since the margin plus the index equals your interest rate, the lower margin is an advantage and most people choose the monthly adjustment.

Monthly adjustments sound scary to the uninitiated, but keep in mind that this is a slow moving index. Most other ARMS have an annual cap of two percent a year. Since 1981, when the FHLB began tracking the index, the most it has moved during any calendar year is 1.6%. So why get a higher margin just to get a rate cap that you probably will not use anyway?

The "life-of-loan" cap for the COFI ARM is usually 11.95%. The most recent year that this cap could have been reached was 1985. Plus, most experts do not expect a return to the interest rates of the early 1980's when interest rates were pushed up artificially to combat the inflation of the 1970's.

Make Only Part of Your Payment?

This is the really interesting feature of the loan. You do not have to make the whole payment. Each month you get a bill that has at least three payment options. One choice is the full payment at the current interest rate. A second choice allows you to pay only the interest that is due on the loan that particular month, but does not pay anything towards the principal. Finally, the third option gives you the choice to pay even less than that and is called the "minimum payment."

The minimum payment when you start your loan can be calculated as low as 2.95 percent. Keep in mind that this is not the note rate on your loan, but just a way to calculate your minimum payment.

Deferred Interest and Amortization

Of course, if you only make the minimum payment each month, you are not paying all of the interest that is currently due that month. You are deferring some of the interest that is currently due on the loan and you will pay it later. The lender keeps track of this deferred interest by adding it to the loan and the loan balance gets larger. Neither you nor the lender wants this to continue forever, so your minimum payment increases a bit each year.

The payment cap on the loan is 7.5%, which also has nothing to do with the interest rate. All it means is the most your minimum payment can increase from one year to the next is seven and a half percent. For example, if your minimum payment is $1000 this year, next year the most it could be is $1075. This continues each year until your payment is approximately equal to the payment at the full note rate.

Just in case, there are fail-safes built into the loan. If you continue making the only the minimum payment and your current balance ever reaches 110 percent of the beginning balance, the loan is re-amortized to make sure you pay it off in thirty years (or forty years, whichever option you chose). Every five years the loan is re-amortized to make sure it pays off within the term of the loan.

Stated Income and Other Features

Many COFI lenders allow Homebuyers with good credit to apply without documenting their income, assets, or source of down payment. Of course, you have to make a twenty or twenty-five percent down payment on your home purchase. This is helpful for self-employed borrowers or those who have jobs where it is difficult to document their income. Plus, some people just do not like the bother of supplying W2 forms, tax returns and pay-stubs. Anyway, it makes for a quick and easy loan approval.

Sub-Prime COFI ARMs

Some people have less than perfect credit and they are used to being charged outrageous rates for past problems. Some COFI lenders offer this same loan but have a slightly higher starting payment and a higher margin. The end result is that your interest rate would be about one percent higher. As of August 18, 1999, that would be around eight percent on this loan instead of seven percent.

Who Should Get This Loan?

In my personal experience, most people who get the COFI ARM are purchasing a home between $300,000 and $650,000, but it is not limited to that. It is a real favorite of those working in the financial industry and those with higher incomes. One reason they like it is because they consider any deferred interest to be an extended loan at a very attractive rate. By making the minimum payment, they do other things with the money.

Homebuyers whose income has peaks and valleys, such as self-employed or commissioned salespeople also like the loan, because it provides flexibility in the monthly payment. During a slow month they can make the minimum payment if they choose. Another reason borrowers like the loan is because it allows for tax planning. The borrower can defer interest payments and at the end of the year, analyze their tax situation. If it serves their tax interests, they can make a lump sum payment toward any interest that has been deferred and deduct it for tax purposes.

Skipping the Starter Home or Move-Up Home

If you're buying a home with the intention of living in it for only a few years before you move up to a bigger home, the COFI ARM makes sense, too. With this loan and its low start payment you can often qualify for a larger home than you can when applying for a fixed rate loan. This allows you to skip the intermediate purchase and move up immediately to the home you really want, which makes more sense and saves you money.

If you buy a home, then sell it to move up to a bigger home, you are going to have to pay Realtor's commissions and closing costs. On a $300,000 house, this would be around $25,000. If you skip buying that home and buy the home you really want, you save that money. Plus, you save money in another way. Say you live in your intermediate purchase for five years, then move up and buy another home with another thirty year mortgage. That is thirty-five years of home loans. If you buy your ideal home now, you save five years of mortgage payments. Depending on your loan amount, that can be a lot of cash.

Conclusion

So, when rates start going up this is an attractive alternative to fixed rates. It even makes sense for some borrowers when rates are low. Something we also did not mention is that most COFI lenders also give you a fourth option on your monthly mortgage statement which allows you to pay it off quicker.

FICO Score - a Brief Explanation+

When you apply for a mortgage loan, you expect your lender to pull a credit report and look at whether you've made your payments on time. What you may not expect is that they seem to be more interested in your "FICO" score.

"What's a FICO score?" is a common reaction.

Each time your credit report is pulled, it is run through a computer program with a built-in scorecard. Points are awarded or deducted based on certain items such as how long you have had credit cards, whether you make your payments on time, if your credit balances are near maximum, and assorted other variables. When the credit report prints in your lender's office, the total score is displayed. Your score can be anywhere between the high 300's and the low 800's.

Lenders wanted to determine if there was any relationship between these credit scores and whether borrowers made their payments on time, so they did a study. The study showed that borrowers with scores above 680 almost always made their payments on time. Borrowers with scores below 600 seemed fairly certain to develop problems.

As a result, credit scoring became a more important factor in approving mortgage loans. Credit scores also made it easier to develop artificial intelligence computer programs that could make a "yes" decision for loans that should obviously be approved. Nowadays, a computer and not a person may have actually approved your mortgage.

In short, lower credit scores require a more thorough review than higher scores. Often, mortgage lenders will not even consider a score below 600.

Some of the things that affect your FICO score are:

  • Delinquencies
  • Too many accounts opened within the last twelve months
  • Short credit history
  • Balances on revolving credit are near the maximum limits
  • Public records, such as tax liens, judgments, or bankruptcies
  • No recent credit card balances
  • Too many recent credit inquiries
  • Too few revolving accounts
  • Too many revolving accounts

FICO actually stands for Fair Isaac and Company, which is the company used by the Experian (formerly TRW) credit bureau to calculate credit scores. Trans-Union and Equifax are two other credit bureaus who also provide credit scores.

What's a FICO? +

What is a FICO Score?

FICO stands for Fair Isaac & Company and is the name for the most well known credit scoring system, used by Experian. The credit bureau's computer evaluates a complete credit profile and assigns a score, which is used to estimate credit worthiness. Each of the three bureaus (Experian, Trans Union, Equifax) employs its own scoring system, so a given person will usually have 3 separate scores. Someone with a higher score will be viewed as a better risk than someone with a lower score. Typically, scores will range from about 600 to 700 or above, although some cases will be outside this range.

What Kind of Score Do I Need for a Home Loan?

There are as many answers to this question as there are loan programs available. Most lenders will take the average of all 3 scores to evaluate an application. "Niche" loans, such as Easy Qualifier and low down payment loans will have the higher FICO requirements.

How is My Score Determined?

The FICO model has 5 main elements:

  1. Past payment history (about 35% of score) The fewer the late payments the better. Recent late payments will have a much greater impact than a very old Bankruptcy with perfect credit since.
    Myth - paying off cards with recent late payments will fix things. Payoffs do not affect payment history.
  2. Credit use (about 30% of score) Low balances across several cards is better than the same balance concentrated on a few cards used closer to maximums. Too many cards can bring down the score, but closing accounts can often do more harm than good if the entire profile is not considered. BE CAREFUL WHEN CLOSING ACCOUNTS!
  3. Length of credit history (15% of score) The longer accounts have been open the better for the score. Opening new accounts and closing seasoned accounts can bring down a score a great deal.
  4. Types of credit used (10% of score) Finance company accounts score lower than bank or department store accounts.
  5. Inquiries (10% of score) Multiple inquiries can be a risk if several cards are applied for or other accounts are close to maxed out. Multiple mortgage or car inquiries within a 14 day period are counted as one inquiry.

How Can I Raise My Score

Your score can only be changed by the way that item is reported directly to the credit bureaus (Experian, TU, Equifax). Written confirmation from the creditor is required. It is best to make these corrections before you try to purchase a home, because you can never be sure the exact impact a change will have on your score.

What Does This Mean to Me?

You should have your credit reviewed BEFORE you look for a home, and work with a PROFESSIONAL loan officer to make sure your loan is based on the most accurate information.

FICO Scores and Your Mortgage+

Three years ago, credit scoring had little to do with mortgage lending. When reviewing the credit worthiness of a borrower, an underwriter would make a subjective decision based on past payment history.

Then things changed.

Lenders studied the relationship between credit scores and mortgage delinquencies. There was a definite relationship. Almost half of those borrowers with FICO scores below 550 became ninety days delinquent at least once during their mortgage. On the other hand, only two out of every 10,000 borrowers with FICO scores above eight hundred became delinquent.

So lenders began to take a closer look at FICO scores and this is what they found out. The chart below shows the likelihood of a ninety day delinquency for specific FICO scores.

FICO Score Odds of a Delinquent Account
595 2 to 1
600 4 to 1
615 9 to 1
630 18 to 1
645 36 to 1
660 72 to 1
680 144 to 1
780 576 to 1

If you were lending a couple hundred thousand dollars, who would you want to lend it to?

FICO Scores, What Affects Them, How Lenders Look At Them

Imagine a busy lending office and a loan officer has just ordered a credit report. He hears the whir of the laser printer and he knows the pages of the credit report are going to start spitting out in just a second. There is a moment of tension in the air. He watches the pages stack up in the collection tray, but he waits to pick them up until all of the pages are finished printing. He waits because FICO scores are located at the end of the report. Previously, he would have probably picked them up as they came off. A FICO above 700 will evoke a smile, then a grin, perhaps a shout and a "victory" style arm pump in the air. A score below 600 will definitely result in a frown, a furrowed brow, and concern.

FICO stands for Fair Isaac & Company, and credit scores are reported by each of the three major credit bureaus: TRW (Experian), Equifax, and Trans-Union. The score does not come up exactly the same on each bureau because each bureau places a slightly different emphasis on different items. Scores range from 365 to 840.

Some of the things that affect your FICO scores:

  • Delinquencies
  • Too many accounts opened within the last twelve months
  • Short credit history
  • Balances on revolving credit are near the maximum limits
  • Public records, such as tax liens, judgments, or bankruptcies
  • No recent credit card balances
  • Too many recent credit inquiries
  • Too few revolving accounts
  • Too many revolving accounts

Sounds confusing, doesn't it?

The credit score is actually calculated using a "scorecard" where you receive points for certain things. Creditors and lenders who view your credit report do not get to see the scorecard, so they do not know exactly how your score was calculated. They just see the final scores.

Basic guidelines on how to view the FICO scores vary a little from lender to lender. Usually, a score above 680 will require a very basic review of the entire loan package. Scores between 640 and 680 require more thorough underwriting. Once a score gets below 640, an underwriter will look at a loan application with a more cautious approach. Many lenders will not even consider a loan with a FICO score below 600, some as high as 620.

FICO Scores and Interest Rates

Credit scores can affect more than whether your loan gets approved or not. They can also affect how much you pay for your loan, too. Some lenders establish a "base price" and will reduce the points on a loan if the credit score is above a certain level. For example, one major national lender reduces the cost of a loan by a quarter point if the FICO score is greater than 725. If it is between 700 and 724, they will reduce the cost by one-eighth of a point. A point is equal to one percent of the loan amount.

There are other lenders who do it in reverse. They establish their base price, but instead of reducing the cost for good FICO scores, they "add on" costs for lower FICO scores. The results from either method would work out to be approximately the same interest rate. It is just that the second way "looks" better when you are quoting interest rates on a rate sheet or in an advertisement.

--FICO Scores and Mortgage Underwriting Decisions --

FICO Scores as Guidelines

FICO scores are only "guidelines" and factors other than FICO scores affect underwriting decisions. Some examples of compensating factors that will make an underwriter more lenient toward lower FICO scores can be a larger down payment, low debt-to-income ratios, an excellent history of saving money, and others. There also may be a reasonable explanation for items on the credit history which negatively impact your credit score.

They Don't Always Make Sense

Even so, sometimes credit scores do not seem to make any sense at all. One borrower with a completely flawless credit history had a FICO score below 600. One borrower with a foreclosure on her credit report had a FICO above 780.

Portfolio & Sub-Prime Lenders

Finally, there are a few "portfolio" lenders who do not even look at credit scoring, at least on their portfolio loans. A portfolio lender is usually a savings & loan institution who originates some adjustable rate mortgages that they intend to keep in their own portfolio instead of selling them in the secondary mortgage market. They may look at home loans differently. Some concentrate on the value of the home. Some may concentrate more on the savings history of the borrower. There are also "sub-prime" lenders, or "B & C paper" lenders, who will provide a home loan, but at a higher interest rate and cost.

Running Credit Reports

One thing to remember when you are shopping for a home loan is that you should not let numerous mortgage lenders run credit reports on you. Wait until you have a reasonable expectation that they are the lender you are going to use to obtain your home loan. Not only will you have to explain any credit inquiries in the last ninety days, but numerous inquiries will lower your FICO score by a small amount. This may not matter if your FICO is 780, but it would matter to you if it is 642.

Don't Buy A Car Just Before Looking for a Home!

In conclusion, a word of advice not directly related to FICO scores. When people begin to think about the possibility of buying a home, they often think about buying other big ticket items, such as cars. Quite often when someone asks a lender to pre-qualify them for a home loan there is a brand new car payment on the credit report. Often, they would have qualified in their anticipated price range except that the new car payment has raised their debt-to-income ratio, lowering their maximum purchase price. Sometimes they have bought the car so recently that the new loan doesn't even show up on the credit report yet, but with six to eight credit inquiries from car dealers and automobile finance companies it is kind of obvious. Almost every time you sit down in a car dealership, it generates two inquiries into your credit.

Credit History is Important

Nowadays, credit scores are important if you want to get the best interest rate available. Protect your FICO score. Do not open new revolving accounts needlessly. Do not fill out credit applications needlessly. Do not keep your credit cards nearly maxed out. Make sure you do use your credit occasionally. Always make sure every creditor has their payment in their office no later than 29 days past due.

And never ever be more than thirty days late on your mortgage. Ever.

Items You Need for When Applying For a Loan+

Have These Items Ready When You Apply For a Loan

It used to be that lenders mailed out verifications to employers, banks, mortgage companies, and so on, in order to verify the data supplied by borrowers. Nowadays, the interest is often in speed and getting answers quickly, so "alternate documentation" has become more widely used. Alternate documentation means that underwriting answers can be obtained with information supplied directly from the borrower instead of waiting around for verifications to come back in the mail.

The following is required for most standardized loans as part of alternate documentation processing. Items may differ according to whether your loan is a conforming (Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac), non-conforming (jumbo) loan, government loan, or a portfolio loan.

Verifications are still mailed out, but usually as part of quality control procedures.

These are the things you need to supply to your lender to get a quick approval using alternate documentation

Income Items

  • W2 forms for the last two years
  • Pay stubs covering a 30 day period
  • Federal tax returns (1040's) for the last two years, if:
    • You are self-employed
    • Earn more than 25% of your income from commissions or bonuses
    • Own rental property
    • Or are in a career where you are likely to take non-reimbursed business expenses
  • Year-to-Date Profit and Loss Statement (for self employed)
  • Corporate or partnership tax returns (if applicable)
  • Pension Award letter (for retired individuals)
  • Social Security Award letters (for those on Social Security)

Asset Items

  • Bank statements for previous two months (sometimes three) on all accounts. All pages.
  • Statements for two months on all stocks, mutual funds, bonds, etc, etc.
  • Copy of latest 401K statement (or other retirement assets)
  • Explanations for any large deposits and source of those funds
  • Copy of HUD1 Settlement Statement on recent sales of homes
  • Copy of Estimated HUD1 Settlement Statement if a previous home is for sale, but not yet closed Gift letter (if some of the funds come as a gift from a family member)
  • Gifts can also require:
    • Verification of donor's ability to make the gift (bank statement)
    • Copy of the check used to make the gift
    • Copy of the deposit receipt showing the funds deposited into bank account or escrow

Credit Items

  • Landlord's name, address, and phone number (for verification of rental)
  • Explanations for any of the following items which may appear on your credit report:
    • Late payments
    • Credit inquiries in the last 90 days
    • Charge-offs
    • Collections
    • Judgments
    • Liens
  • Copy of bankruptcy papers if you have filed bankruptcy within the last seven years

Other

  • Copy of purchase agreement (if you have already made an offer)
  • To document receipt of child support (if you desire to show it as income)
    • Copy of Divorce Settlement (to show the amount)
    • Copies of twelve months canceled checks to document actual receipt of fund

FHA Loans

  • Copy of Social Security Card (or other documentation of social security number)
  • Copy of Driver's license

VA Loans

  • Copy of DD214

Refinances

  • Copy of Note on existing loan
  • Copy of HUD1 Settlement Statement on existing loan
  • Name, address, phone number, loan number of existing loan/lender

Where Does the Money Come From for Mortgage Loans?+

In the "olden" days, when someone wanted a home loan they walked downtown to the neighborhood bank or savings & loan. If the bank had extra funds laying around and considered you a good credit risk, they would lend you the money from their own funds.

It doesn't generally work like that anymore. Most of the money for home loans comes from three major institutions:

  • Fannie Mae (FNMA - Federal National Mortgage Association)
  • Freddie Mac (FHLMC - Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation)
  • Ginnie Mae (GNMA - Government National Mortgage Association)

This is how it works:

You talk to practically any lender and apply for a loan. They do all the processing and verifications and finally, you own the house and now you have a home loan and you make mortgage payments. You might be making payments to the company who originated your loan, or your loan might have been transferred to another institution. The institution where you mail your payments is called the "servicer," but most likely they do not own your loan. They are simply "servicing" your loan for the institution that does own it.

You see, what happens behind the scenes is that your loan got packaged into a "pool" with a lot of other loans and sold off to one of the three institutions listed above. The servicer of your loan gets a monthly fee from the investor for servicing your loan. This fee is usually only 3/8ths of a percent or so, but the amount adds up. There are companies that service over a billion dollars of home loans and it is a tidy income.

At the same time, whichever institution packaged your loan into the pool for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or Ginnie Mae, has received additional funds with which to make more loans to other borrowers. This is the cycle that allows institutions to lend you money.

What Freddie Mac, Ginnie Mae, and Fannie may do after they purchase the pools, is break them down into smaller increments of $1000 or so, called "mortgage backed securities." They sell these mortgage backed securities to individuals or institutions on Wall Street. If you have a 401K or mutual fund, you may even own some. Perhaps you have heard of Ginnie Mae bonds? Those are securities backed by the mortgages on FHA and VA loans.

These bonds are not ownership in your loan specifically, but a piece of ownership in the entire pool of loans, of which your loan is only one among many. By selling the bonds, Ginnie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Fannie Mae obtain new funds to buy new pools so lenders can get more money to lend to new borrowers.

And that is how the cycle works.

So when you make your payment, the servicer gets to keep their tiny part, and the majority is passed on to the investor. Then the investor passes on the majority of it to the individual or institutional investor in the mortgage backed securities.

From time to time your loan may be transferred from the company where you have been making your payment to another company. They aren't selling your loan again, just the right to service your loan.

There are exceptions.

Loans above $227,150 do not conform to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac guidelines, which is why they are called "non-conforming" loans, or "jumbo" loans. These loans are packaged into different pools and sold to different investors, not Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae. Then they are securitized and for the most part, sold as mortgage backed securities as well.

This buying and selling of mortgages and mortgage backed securities is called "mortgage banking," and it is the backbone of the mortgage business.

Types of Mortgage Lenders+

Mortgage Bankers

Mortgage Bankers are lenders that are large enough to originate loans and create pools of loans which they sell directly to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Ginnie Mae, jumbo loan investors, and others. Any company that does this is considered to be a mortgage banker.

Some companies don't sell directly to those major investors, but sell their loans to the mortgage bankers. They often refer to themselves as mortgage bankers as well. Since they are actually engaging in the selling of loans, there is some justification for using this label. The point is that you cannot reliably determine the size or strength of a particular lender based on whether or not they identify themselves as a mortgage banker.

Portfolio lenders

An institution which is lending their own money and originating loans for itself is called a "portfolio lender." This is because they are lending for their own portfolio of loans and not worried about being able to immediately sell them on the secondary market. Because of this, they don't have to obey Fannie/Freddie guidelines and can create their own rules for determining credit worthiness. Usually these institutions are larger banks and savings & loans.

Quite often only a portion of their loan programs are "portfolio" product. If they are offering fixed rate loans or government loans, they are certainly engaging in mortgage banking as well as portfolio lending.

Once a borrower has made the payments on a portfolio loan for over a year without any late payments, the loan is considered to be "seasoned." Once a loan has a track history of timely payments it becomes marketable, even if it does not meet Freddie/Fannie guidelines.

Selling these "seasoned" loans frees up more money for the "portfolio" lender to make more loans. If they are sold, they are packaged into pools and sold on the secondary market. You will probably not even realize your loan is sold because, quite likely, you will still make your loan payments to the same lender, which has now become your "servicer."

Direct Lenders

Lenders are considered to be direct lenders if they fund their own loans. A "direct lender" can range anywhere from the biggest lender to a very tiny one. Banks and savings & loans obviously have deposits they can use to fund loans with, but they usually use "warehouse lines of credit" from which they draw the money to fund the loans. Smaller institutions also have warehouse lines of credit from which they draw money to fund loans.

Direct lenders usually fit into the category of mortgage bankers or portfolio lenders, but not always.

One way you used to be able to distinguish a direct lender was from the fact that the loan documents were drawn up in their name, but this is no longer the case. Even the tiniest mortgage broker can make arrangements to fund loans in their own name nowadays.

Correspondents

Correspondent is usually a term that refers to a company which originates and closes home loans in their own name, then sells them individually to a larger lender, called a sponsor. The sponsor acts as the mortgage banker, re-selling the loan to Ginnie Mae, Fannie Mae, or Freddie Mac as part of a pool. The correspondent may fund the loans themselves or funding may take place from the larger company. Either way, the loan is usually underwritten by the sponsor.

It is almost like being a mortgage broker, except that there is usually a very strong relationship between the correspondent and their sponsor.

Mortgage Brokers

Mortgage Brokers are companies that originate loans with the intention of brokering them to lending institutions. A broker has established relationships with these companies. Underwriting and funding takes place at the larger institutions. Many mortgage brokers are also correspondents.

Mortgage brokers deal with lending institutions that have a wholesale loan department.

Wholesale Lenders

Most mortgage bankers and portfolio lenders also act as wholesale lenders, catering to mortgage brokers for loan origination. Some wholesale lenders do not even have their own retail branches, relying solely on mortgage brokers for their loans. These wholesale divisions offer loans to mortgage brokers at a lower cost than their retail branches offer them to the general public. The mortgage broker then adds on his fee. The result for the borrower is that the loan costs about the same as if he obtained a loan directly from a retail branch of the wholesale lender.

Banks and Savings & Loans

Banks and savings & loans usually operate as portfolio lenders, mortgage bankers, or some combination of both.

Credit Unions

Credit Unions usually seem to operate as correspondents, although a large one could act as a portfolio lender or a mortgage banker.

The Advantages of Different Types of Mortgage Lenders+

What kind of lender is "best?"

If you ask a loan officer, "What kind of lender is best?" it is going to be whatever kind of company he works for and he will give you a list of reasons why. If you meet the same loan officer years later, and he works for a different kind of lender, he will give you a list of reasons why that type of lender is better.

Realtors will also have differing opinions, and their opinions have changed over time. In the past, it seemed like most would often recommend portfolio lenders. Now they usually recommend mortgage bankers and mortgage brokers. Most often they direct you to a specific loan officer who has demonstrated a track record of service and reliability.

This article discusses the advantages and disadvantage of different types of institutions, not the individual loan officers. However, it is often more important to choose the correct loan officer, not the institution. The loan officer has many responsibilities, one of which is to act as your representative and advocate to the lender he works for or the institutions he brokers loans to. You want someone who has proven dependable and ethical in the past.

Regarding the institutions, the truth of the matter is that each type of lender has strengths and weaknesses. This does not even take into account the variety of other factors that influence whether a lender is "good" or "bad." Quality can vary, depending on the loan officer, the support staff, which branch or office you are obtaining your loan from, and a variety of other factors.

Portfolio Lenders

Savings & Loans are quite often portfolio lenders, as are some banks. Portfolio lenders generally promote their own portfolio loans, which are usually adjustable rate loans. They will often pay more compensation to their loan officers for originating a portfolio product than for originating a fixed rate loan. You may also find that they are not as competitive as mortgage bankers and brokers in the fixed rate loan market.

However, it is often easier to qualify for a portfolio loan, so borrowers who may not qualify for a fixed rate loan may be able to obtain a loan from a portfolio lender. A borrower may be able to qualify for a larger loan from a portfolio lender than he could obtain from a fixed rate lender.

Portfolio lenders also can serve as "niche" lenders because certain things are more important to them than meeting the more standardized underwriting guidelines of a mortgage banker. An example would be a savings & loan which is more concerned with an individual's savings history than being able to fully document income, among others things.

If you apply for a loan with a portfolio lender and you are declined, you usually have to start the process over with a new company.

Mortgage Bankers

If we are talking about the larger mortgage bankers, you can count on them having several strengths. For the biggest ones, you will recognize the "brand name."

Usually, they are much better at promoting special first time buyer programs offered by states and local governments, that have lower interest rates and costs than the current market rate. These programs are often available to buyers who have not owned a home in the last three years and fall within certain income guidelines.

Mortgage bankers may have problems just because they are "too big" or they may operate like well oiled machines.

If you are buying a home and you need a VA or FHA loan and the development you are buying in has not yet been approved, they will be better at getting it approved than other lenders.

If your home loan is declined for some reason, many mortgage bankers allow their loan officers to broker the loan to another institution. However, because your loan officer is so used to promoting the company's product, he may not be familiar with which institution may be the best one to submit your loan to. Another reason is because wholesale lenders do not expect to get many loans from direct mortgage bankers, so they do not expend much marketing effort on them.

Banks and Savings & Loans

Their major strength is that you will recognize their name. In addition, they will usually be operating as a mortgage banker. a portfolio lender, or both, and have the same weaknesses and strengths.

Mortgage Brokers

The major strength of mortgage brokers is that they can shop the wholesale lenders for which lender has the best rate much easier than a borrower can on his own. They also learn the "hot points" of certain wholesale lenders and can hand-pick the lender for a borrower which may be unique in some way. He will be able to advise you whether your loan should be submitted to a portfolio lender or a mortgage banker. Another advantage is that, if a loan gets declined for some reason, they can simply repackage the loan and submit it to another wholesale lender.

One additional advantage is that mortgage brokers tend to attract a high number of the most qualified loan officers. This is not universal. Mortgage brokers also serve as the training ground for those just entering the business. If you have a new loan officer and there is something unique about you or the property you are buying, there could be a problem on the horizon that an experienced loan officer would have anticipated.

A disadvantage is that mortgage brokers sometimes attract the greediest loan officers, too. They may charge you more on your loan which would then nullify the ability of the mortgage broker being able to "shop" for the lowest rate.

Wholesale Lenders

Borrowers cannot get access to the wholesale divisions of mortgage bankers and portfolio lenders without going through a broker.

When Realtors or Builders Recommend a Lender

If your Realtor or builder make a suggestion for a lender, be sure to talk to that lender. One reason Realtors and builders make suggestions has to do with the fact that they have regular dealings with this lender and have come to expect a certain amount of reliability. Reliability is extremely important to all parties involved in a real estate transaction.

On the other hand, a recent trend in mortgage lending has been for real estate companies and builders to own their own mortgage companies or create "controlled business arrangements" (CBA's) in order to increase their profitability. These mortgage brokers sometimes become used to having what is essentially a "captured market" and may not necessarily offer you the lowest rates or costs.

Some real estate companies also offer different types of incentives to their Realtors to recommend their company-owned mortgage and escrow companies or lenders with whom they have CBA's. Dealing with one of these lenders is not necessarily a bad thing, though. The builder or real estate company often feel they have more ability to expedite matters when they own the company or have a controlled business relationship. They cannot usually influence the underwriting decision, but they can sometimes cut through "red tape" to handle problems or speed up the process. Builders are especially forceful on having you use their lender. One reason is that there are certain intricacies in dealing with new homes. If you use a loan officer who usually deals with refinances or resale home loans, he may not even be aware of how different it is to close a mortgage on a new home and this can lead to problems or delays.

It is in your interest to know if there is any kind of ownership relationship or controlled business arrangement between the real estate or builder and the lender, so be sure to ask. Do not automatically disqualify such a lender, but be sure to be more vigilant on getting the best interest rate and the lowest costs.

Conclusion

Make sure to do a little shopping for yourself. By knowing the interest rates of the market and making sure your loan officer knows you are looking at rates from other institutions, you can use that as leverage to make sure you are obtaining the best combination of service and lowest rates.

The No-Cost Thirty Year Fixed Rate Mortgage+

There really is no such thing as a "no-cost" mortgage loan. There are always costs, such as appraisal fees, escrow fees, title insurance fees, document fees, processing fees, flood certification fees, recording fees, notary fees, tax service fees, wire fees, and so on, depending on whether the loan is a purchase or a refinance. The term "no-cost" actually means that your lender is paying the costs of the loan. All a "no cost" loan means is that there is no cost to you, the borrower.

Except that you pay a higher interest rate.

Understand How Loans Are Priced

A variation of the no-cost loan is the "no points" loan, or even the "no points, no lender fees" loan. On these loans you pay all the costs associated with buying a house or refinancing, but you do not have to pay the lender associated fees or points. However, since lenders and loan officers do not do anything for free, the profit has to come from somewhere.

So where does it come from?

First, you have to understand how loans are priced and how mortgage lenders and loan officers earn income. Each morning mortgage companies create rate sheets for loan officers. The rates usually change slightly from day to day. In volatile markets they change several times a day. On the rate sheet, there are many different programs, including the thirty year fixed rate.

There will be one column which will lists several different interest rates and another column that lists the "cost" for that particular rate. For example:

Rate Cost(points)
6.250% 2.000
6.375% 1.500
6.500% 1.000
6.625% 0.500
6.750% 0.000
6.875% (0.500)
7.000% (1.000)
7.125% (1.500)
7.250% (2.000)

In the above example, 6.75% has a "par" price, which means it has a zero cost. The lower in rate you go, the higher the cost, or "points." A point is equal to one percent of the loan amount. The parentheses in the cost column for the higher interest rates indicates a negative number. For example, (1.500) equals -1.500, which means instead of having a cost associated with the loan, the lender is willing to pay out money for those interest rates. This is called "premium" or "rebate" pricing.

-- Zero Cost Loans --

How Mortgage Companies and Loan Officers Make Money

The above rate sheet is not a rate sheet designed for public review. In fact, most lenders have a policy that the public cannot see their internal rate sheet. This rate sheet is designed for loan officers and the cost column is the loan officer's cost, not the cost to the borrower. When the loan officer quotes you an interest rate, he will add on a certain amount, usually one to one and a half points. Most companies leave it up to the loan officer's discretion how much to add on to the base cost. However, they usually require at least a minimum add-on, which is usually one point.

The loan officer's commission depends on his "split" with the company and can vary. He receives a portion of the add-on and the rest goes to the company.

If we assume the loan officer is adding on one point, and you were willing to pay one point for your loan, then your rate would be (according to this rate sheet) 6.75%. You would pay one percentage point and receive an interest rate of six and three-quarters. If you wanted a lower rate and were willing to pay two points, you could get six and a half percent. If you wanted a "no points" loan, then your rate would be seven percent. The loan officer and the mortgage company would split the one point rebate, listed as (1.000) on the rate sheet.

See how it works?

In addition to the cost noted on the rate sheet above, lenders have certain other fees they like to collect, too. These can include document fees, processing fees, underwriting fees, warehouse fees, flood certification fees, wire transfer fees, tax service fees, and so on. Usually, you will not be charged all of these fees, it is just that different lenders call them different things. Some of them are legitimate costs to the lender and some of them are simply fees designed to generate additional income to the mortgage company. They are customary in today's mortgage market and can vary from around $600 to $1300. In addition, there will usually be an appraisal fee and a credit report fee. Appraisals and credit reports are usually contracted out to independent companies even though these are considered to be lender fees.

Note that it is common for companies who charge higher fees to have a slightly lower interest rate and companies that charge lower fees will usually have a slightly higher interest rate. So if you shop entirely based on fees, you may actually spend more money in the long run because your interest rate may be higher.

The point is that if you want a "no points - no lender fees" loan, then on our rate sheet above, you may get an interest rate of 7.125%. That is because the loan officer has to bump the interest rate even further than on a "no points" loan in order to cover his own company's fees.

If you want a "no cost" loan, then the loan officer has to bump your interest rate even further. That is because all of the costs on your purchase or refinance do not come from the lender. The escrow or settlement company involved in your transaction will charge a fee which must be paid. The lender will require title insurance and the title insurance company charges a fee for providing this insurance. If your new lender requires information from your homeowner's association (if you have one) then the homeowner's association will most likely charge a fee for providing those documents. If you are refinancing, your current lender will usually charge at least two fees: a "demand" fee, and a "reconveyance" fee. The demand fee is charged simply for providing payoff information. The reconveyance fee is charged because your current lender prepares a document which releases your property as collateral for their outstanding loan. This document is called a reconveyance.

These charges will add about another point to how much the loan officer must collect in premium pricing in order to cover the costs associated with your refinance or purchase. For a zero cost loan, he will normally need to collect somewhere in the neighborhood of two and a half points. Because points are a percentage of your loan amount and most of the costs are fixed, it takes fewer points to provide zero costs on higher loan amounts. On smaller loan amounts it takes more. One percent of $200,000 is two thousand dollars and one percent of $100,000 is only $1000, so you can see how it is easier to cover costs on larger loans.

Does it makes sense to do a zero cost loan?

On a $200,000 thirty year fixed rate loan, the difference in monthly mortgage payments will be about $87, using the example rate sheet on the first page. Over thirty years, it works out that you will pay more than $30,000 extra for getting a zero cost loan. So if you intend to remain in the home for a long period of time it just doesn't make sense.

Suppose you intend to stay for only five years? On a purchase, using the $200,000 example, if you stayed longer than fifty-five months, it would make more sense to pay your own costs and get the lower interest rate. If you kept the loan for a shorter time, then it makes more sense to pay zero costs and get a higher interest rate.

Except for one thing.

If you knew you were only going to be staying in the home for five years you would probably not want a thirty year fixed rate, anyway. You would get a loan which has a fixed payment for the first five years, then convert to an adjustable or whatever fixed rates are five years from now. These loans have an interest rate almost a half percent lower than thirty year fixed rate loans. Since it is practically impossible to do a zero cost loan on this type of loan, you would have to compare a zero cost thirty year fixed rate loan to paying points on a loan with a fixed payment for five years.

The difference in payments would be about $150. The two and a half point rebate equals $5000. Working out the math, if you stayed in the home longer than thirty-three months, it would make more sense to pay the points and get the loan with the five year fixed rate.

Finally, carry the discussion one step further. Suppose you know you are going to be in the new loan for less than three years? Doesn't it make sense to get a "zero cost" loan then?

No.

Then you get an adjustable rate loan. As long as the start rate is two percent lower than the current fixed rate, you cannot lose. The first year you will save a lot of money. The second year you will probably break even. The third year, you will probably give up some of the savings from the first year, but not all of them.

"Zero cost" loans just don't make sense for Homebuyers.

But they sound really good in an advertisement.

Exceptions:

On a FHA Streamline Refinance Without an Appraisal (not a purchase - which is what the article talks about), it makes sense to do a zero cost loan. This is mostly because the new loan has to be exactly the same amount as the existing balance of the current loan.

If the Homebuyer only has enough money for down payment and none to cover closing costs, PLUS no arrangement can be made for the seller to pay closing costs, then zero costs may make sense (however, I would still recommend negotiating terms with the homeseller - be willing to pay a higher price in exchange for the seller paying your costs).

Land Contract+

An alternative to a non-conforming loan is the use of a land contract, which is allowed in some states. A land contract is an agreement between a buyer and a seller, where the buyer agrees to make periodic payments to the seller. The title to the property only transfers to the land contract buyer on fulfillment of the land contract obligations.

A land contract can be helpful for those who need time to establish or improve their credit rating. There are only small closing costs, and payment can help establish a good mortgage payment record. This can help establish an overall good credit rating, and it is possible for the buyer to later refinance the land contract with a conforming loan.

On the other hand, there are risks associated with land contracts. Land contract purchases are not necessarily recorded in the public record, and there are no guarantees that the seller will be able to transfer a clear title to the buyer upon fulfillment of the land contract. There also is no lender assuring that the purchase price for the property is justified, and no inspection of the property's condition.

Another alternative to a non-conforming loan is assuming the seller's mortgage. By assuming a mortgage, if the mortgage is assumable, it is possible to save on closing costs, and may allow you to obtain a favorable interest rate.

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