by Dan Krell © 2005
Reading Friday’s Washington Post Article about Alan Greenspan’s comments on the housing market does not surprise me. Mr. Greenspan was concerned about the increase in the use of what was termed “exotic mortgages,” specifically interest only mortgages. A lot of media focus has been given to this type of loan lately because the national housing market. Locally, there has been media attention as well. Like me, the Washington Post has recently written about the potential hazards of interest only mortgages. In addition to interest only mortgages, there are many other non-traditional mortgages that are popular as well, which include 100% financing, no-doc loans, balloon notes, option arms, “sub prime” mortgages, and their many variations of each. I will only describe interest only mortgages and 100% financing. You can contact your local lender for more information regarding all non-traditional mortgage programs.
These non-traditional mortgages were designed to increase home ownership and to help those that can qualify for traditional mortgages. However, many more homebuyers are looking toward these non-traditional mortgages to help them purchase more expensive homes which they might not otherwise qualify.
An interest only mortgage is just that, it is a mortgage where the borrower’s monthly payments only go to pay off the interest of the loan. The principal is never paid back until the home is sold or the mortgage is refinanced. There are several varieties of this type of loan but the underlying goal is the same, which is to allow a borrower to have lower mortgage payments. The intent for this program is to lower the mortgage’s impact on the borrower’s cash flow. In reality, however, the borrowers’ cash flow has been increased because of the added debt from the higher priced homes they purchase. Doing so only puts the borrower at a higher risk because the borrower’s cash flow has not been reduced and the mortgage principal never decreases during the life of the loan.
Another popular mortgage program is the no down payment mortgage, or 100% financing. This program helps borrowers who have little cash for down payment and closing costs. The program provides the borrower with a loan that is one hundred percent of the purchase price. Typically, the borrower relies on a long term approach for building equity. However, recently, borrowers have relied on the strong real estate market to grant them short term equity gains.
These are two wonderful mortgage programs, when employed properly help homebuyers. The risk in these two programs is paradoxical. What was devised to help homebuyers with limited funds and/or cash flow becomes a tremendous burden when the borrower has a financial set back. Because the principal on the loan is either not reduced at all or is reduced marginally within the several years of the loan, the borrower could easily become “upside down” if they fall behind on their mortgage. Added interest and penalties on unpaid amounts quickly add additional thousands of dollars to the overall mortgage. Being upside down is a term used to describe when you owe more than the home is worth.
Again, these mortgage programs are great devices that have helped to increase home ownership across the country. All mortgages are risks, some are riskier than others. Homebuyers should understand the risks involved before choosing any mortgage program.
This column is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice.
This column was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel 6/2005.
Copyright Dan Krell 2005.