Risky mortgages

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.

How your interest rate effects you

by Dan Krell © 2005
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Last week, I was in Starbucks talking about interest rates and the current real estate market. It was not unusual that I was in Starbucks nor conducting business there, as it seems that Starbucks, these days, maybe second to the golf course in the culmination of business. This day, I happened to be talking with Ken Cusick. Ken and I were discussing the vulnerability of those homeowners who purchased their home with adjustable mortgages, primarily interest only mortgages. Ken had a lot to say about this topic. Ken knows what he is talking about because he is the principal of Cusick Financial, LLC, a financial consulting firm located in Olney, MD specializing in residential and commercial financing.

Ken and I agreed that many homeowners have a great mortgage rate because of the historically low interest rates we have had recently. I expressed my concern about the many homeowners who have bought their home with an interest only or variable rate mortgage to either allow them to buy more home than they normally could afford, or to keep payments down. After all, the interest rates for these mortgages usually started between three to four percent. This cut the mortgage payment by at least a few hundred dollars a month, if not more.

Ken had a few things to say in response, as well as a few words of advice. First, Ken asserted that because the interest only and variable rate mortgages are tied to short term indices, they usually tend to be a better deal than 30-year mortgages (which are tied to long term bonds and indices). Depending on the type of index the mortgage is tied to, the interest rate can change annually or even as frequently as monthly. He stated that the unusually low interest rate environment we have had in the past five years has made housing more affordable, which paradoxically led to the significant increase in home prices we have experienced.

Second, Ken stated that those homeowners who have a fixed rate mortgage would always be able to afford their home as long as their income never decreases and they never need to sell their home. Even if there is a correction in the real estate market to lower home prices, these homeowners are in good shape.

Third, homeowners who have interest only or variable rate mortgages are subject to the volatility of the market as rates rise and fall, and are at significant risk. As interest rates rise, their monthly mortgage payments rise. Additionally, as interest rates rise, the cost of housing rises and housing demand decreases. This creates difficulty for those who were betting on interest rates to stay low because the affordability of the mortgage becomes an increasing burden on those who may not be able to afford higher payments. Add that to the possibility of their home being devalued increases the burden of loss.

Ken’s advice was simple. If the homeowner could not afford the mortgage payment with an increase of of interest by two to three percentage points, then they should refinance into a fixed rate mortgage. He admits the payment will be higher, but the comfort that the payment will not change should be peace of mind in an uncertain future.

If, however, the mortgage rate does not adjust in three to five years and the homeowner intends to sell in within that time period, Ken says to hang in there. The logic is that the only risk the homeowner takes is the possibility of the home depreciating in value. If the mortgage balance is 70% to 80% of the current home value, then the risk is much less.

To many, Ken’s advice would seem a bit too conservative. I, however, believe that this advice to be the consensus of good financial planning.

This column is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice.
Copyright Dan Krell 2005

There are options if you are in Foreclosure

by Dan Krell © 2005
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Popular culture has a way of taking an item or an event and making it over simplified for the lay folk so as the item or event becomes a trite expression of a generation or decade. You can spot this happening when certain new buzzwords fly about the air. The event or item becomes trendy and ingrained in the psyche, then eventually becomes passe. This has become the case of trying to buy a pre-foreclosure. A pre-foreclosure is when the homeowner still owns the property, most likely is still living in the home and is facing a sure loss of their hard earned money and home.

As a Realtor, it used to be pretty common for a buyer to say, “Oh, and I am interested in buying a foreclosure,” at the end of the first meeting. Lately, it has become trendy for buyers to assert that they are looking for a pre-foreclosure because it is believed that the home is still in good condition. The main reason for these assertions is that buyers believe they are getting a great bargain. Unfortunately, it is far from the truth. Most people, who buy a foreclosed home, pay a premium because the market is very strong. Even when the home is distressed, the buyer will pay top dollar for a home is a particular neighborhood, knowing that they will have spend another $50,000 to $100,000 to fix the home. Certainly a pre-foreclosure will sell for market value.

The unfortunate player in this scenario is the original homeowner who faced a hardship or two and fell behind on their mortgage payments. Many people facing late payments or foreclosure usually lack information of where to get help. The U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recommends that the first thing the homeowner should do is to call their lender if they are falling behind on their mortgage payments, or they know they will have problems making the mortgage payment. By calling the lender and explaining the situation, the lender will usually provide options to help the homeowner through the hardship. HUD also highly recommends that the homeowner call a HUD-approved housing counseling agency to assist. Information on the housing counseling agencies is available on the HUD website www.hud.gov.

According to BankRate.com, lenders want to help the borrower as much as possible. The last thing the lender wants is to spend thousands on legal fees to foreclose on a property then have to sell it. Some of the options that lenders extend to delinquent homeowners include a forbearance and mortgage modification. These provisions are usually more prevalent with FHA and VA backed mortgages, however, they are also offered for conventional mortgages as well. A forbearance is a special repayment plan where the lender arranges payments such that it will allow the homeowner to make mortgage payments after the financial crisis. Usually this is a fix for a short-term financial crisis.

If the homeowner is seriously behind on your mortgage, the lender can modify the mortgage. A modification is when mortgage payments that have not been paid are added to the principal of the existing mortgage. This allows the homeowner to essentially catch up and get back on track.

Recently, it has become common to see many pre-foreclosure sales. This when the owner has fallen behind in their mortgage payments or is even in the foreclosure process and sells the home on their own or through a Realtor. In most cases, this may be the last resort for the homeowner because they cannot pay the mortgage even with the modifications. Although the homeowner cannot keep the home, this is usually a good arrangement because the homeowner can pay off the mortgage and get the equity out of the home to apply it towards the purchase of a smaller and more affordable home.
If you or someone you know has the misfortune of falling behind on the mortgage, talk to the lender, they want to help.

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 3/28/2005.
Copyright Dan Krell 2005.

What happens to your home in a divorce?

by Dan Krell © 2005

Did your hear about Regina and Jonathan? Who knew they were headed towards divorce? What’s going to happen to that beautiful colonial they bought in Silver Spring? Didn’t they settle 9 months ago? Unfortunately, you hear this thread of conversation more often these days. When divorce is imminent, people tend to worry about the children’s future, how to treat the mother-in-law who was so nice (lucky fellow), how their friends will react. Of course, these should be at the top of one’s mind. There are many concerns to worry about.

Beyond family concerns, finances and real estate are important also. Figuring out who gets what and how much can get messy, antagonistic and litigious. There is no getting around it. That is why an attorney should be consulted on these matters. You can get more information on family law and contacting a local attorney by going to the following website: www.montbar.org/barfound/mclan/famlaw.htm.

What happens to the marital home when people get divorced? Let’s look at Regina and Jonathan. In a simplistic explanation, they have several amicable options. The options available depend on whether they want to stay in the home or not. Either way, both will have to agree on decision.

I understand that Regina wanted to stay in the home because she wanted to keep the kids at the same school. Among the many options available for her to stay in the home, one common solution is for Regina to buy out Jonathan’s equity in the home. You can see this is a friendly solution because, for a price, Jonathan will give Regina the home.

In buying out Jonathan’s equity, Regina will have to come up with the money to pay him; however, Regina doesn’t have the cash. How will she get the money? She can get the money out of the home itself by taking out a home equity line of credit or refinancing the home through a cash-out mortgage.

The first step is for Regina and Jonathan to figure out how much equity is in the home. They can do this by having someone appraise the home. The appraiser will determine the fair market value. The equity is determined by subtracting all mortgages from the appraised value. After the home has been appraised, Regina and Jonathan have to agree on how to split the equity. In their case, they determined that there is $100,000 equity in the home and they decided to split the equity equally.

Regina decided to call the ABC Mortgage Company to obtain a cash-out mortgage. The appraised value of the home is $564,000. She decided to get a mortgage of $450,000. A majority of the mortgage will pay off all existing mortgages and closing costs. The remainder, $50,000, is the amount needed to buy out Jonathan’s equity of the home.

One of the common pitfalls here is that the marital home is often times purchased using both spouses’ incomes to qualify and pay the mortgage. Thankfully, Regina is a senior executive with a local company and earns more than enough to qualify and pay the mortgage on her own.

Unfortunately, many ex-spouses are not as amicable as Regina and Jonathan. Either they can not agree on what to do with the home, or one spouse wants to stay in the home but cannot afford to stay there on their own. Another frequent solution is to sell the home and distribute the proceeds as decided by the spouses and their attorneys.

Selling a home is always an emotional and stressful time. Selling a home under these circumstances is more so because the selling parties are antagonistic if not hostile towards each other. No matter how friendly the parties are in a divorce, it is still a very emotional time and it’s important to be as objective and fair as possible when making decisions about the marital home.

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 4/30/2005.
Copyright Dan Krell 2005.

What happened to afordable housing?

by Dan Krell © 2005
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Everyone in the Metro area knows that housing costs have risen at what seems to be an exponential rate in the last few years. If you are a first time homebuyer, the shock of the price of a home in the Metro area must be like watching the Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

What happened to affordable housing? According to the Greater Capital Association of Realtors (www.gcaar.com), the average sales price for a single family home in Montgomery County in January 2005 was $512,743. Comparatively, the price of a single family home in January 2004 was $435,898. Evidence that it is becoming increasingly harder for a first time homebuyer to own a single family home.

Although the price of a home may not seem affordable, there are some ways to make it affordable. Montgomery County has always had some form of assistance to boost home ownership. Some of the programs that have been prevalent for some time now include the moderately priced dwelling unit program (MPDU), special loan programs and closing cost assistance.

The moderately priced dwelling unit program was established in 1974 by Montgomery County to provide affordable housing. The program allows a homebuyer to purchase a home at a special price. The homebuyer must qualify for financing and meet other criteria. There are MPDU’s scattered throughout the county in many communities and exist in many forms, such as townhomes, condos and semidetached homes.

There are restrictions on purchasing a MPDU, as one can imagine. The restrictions include a certificate of use, resale restrictions, and shared profits. The certificate of use requires the owner to live in the property, and not be able to rent to tenants. Additionally, when you are ready to sell your home, the price is restricted. Any profits that incur from the sale must be split with the Housing Initiative Fund (HIF) (which spends the money for additional affordable housing). The current price for a townhome is very affordable (check the website below). Information on qualifying and other regulations for the MPDU program, please visit the Montgomery County Department of Housing and Community Affairs website www.montgomerycountymd.gov/apps/dhca/index.asp.

If you choose not to go through the MPDU program, or if you do not qualify, there are other programs available to help with your purchase. Community programs, such as the Housing Opportunities Commission, offer special financing and closing cost help. If you visit their website, www.hocmc.org, you can see that there are currently two loan programs that offer below rate assistance for qualifying purchasers. One loan program offers a starting interest rate of 3.55%. These loan programs will qualify you to purchase a home that you might not otherwise qualify.

If financing is not a problem, you might need some closing cost help. The Housing Opportunities Commission has a couple of options for this too. One program offers a loan for up to five percent of the purchase price of the home. If you are short on cash, help such as this is a Godsend.

Although the average price of a home may not seem affordable to many first time homebuyers, there are programs that are available to help with the purchase. Each program mentioned here does have qualifying criteria, as well as restrictions, and should be checked before embarking on your endeavor. Both agencies mentioned here are very knowledgeable and want to help you with any questions you may have.

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.
Copyright Dan Krell 2005