Delete Collection Accounts

Getting a home mortgage loan or refinancing an existing loan calls for a clean credit report. Banks simply will not give a mortgage to someone with collection accounts on their credit report. And, sometimes these collection accounts can be a big shock to the prospective home buyer. Who knew the account was even there?

In California, the statute of limitations for an unpaid collection account is four [4] years. It seems, though, that  creditors have come up with some creative ways to keep collection accounts going. Sometimes, the debt is sold to another credit company, thus re-activating it or sometimes it is simply transferred to another division of the same company with a different name. Both gambits are done with the hope of resurrecting these debts.

This can have a major impact on the consumer’s credit score, sometimes as much as 30 points. This is, of course, of major concern when applying for a home loan. All collections must be paid or the bank will not grant the mortgage. If collection agencies realize that a debtor is trying for a home loan, then they will definitely play hardball and expect to get the entire amount of the debt paid with additional fees added.

So, what to do?

Thanks to a recent court case, the 9th Circuit held that the Federal Debt Collection Practices Act requires substantial activity by the debt collector before a debt can be considered valid. Specifically, for a debt to be valid the collection agency must send a notice to the debtor within 5 days.This is true if it’s the first collection agency, one of many or a subsequent one.

Of course, people often don’t even realize they have collections because collection agencies rarely send out these “validation notices.” Now, the collection agency must inform the debtor of the total amount of the debt and to whom it is owed and this must be in writing within 5 days. Furthermore, the agency must inform the consumers they have 30 days in which to dispute the debt.

When the consumer disputes the debt or any part of it, the agency must supply a copy of the judgment or verification of the debt. Previously, knowing the consumer wanted to buy a house, the agencies would simply insist on payment until either the home buyer gave up the quest for a house or paid the loan.

Now, there is some protection for the home buyer with a collection account. If you discover a collection account on your credit report, it is only valid if you have received notice of it from the collection agency in writing and you may still dispute the account. If the collection agency refuses to back down, yes, you will have to hire an attorney, but a simple letter may do the trick.

Fiscal Cliff Approval and Real Estate

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Real Estate Tax Provisos for 2013

 

Finally, “fiscal cliff” debate is over! For months now, it’s been impossible to turn on the TV or radio without getting an earful of breathless and mostly unwanted information.  Even though most of us now regard Congress as on a par with cockroaches, what happens there does have an impact on our lives. All the more reason for members of Congress to act like grownups, but that’s another topic…

home money

Real Estate Tax Deductions

Rushed through at the last minute, the “fiscal cliff” legislation contains a number of important provisions and none more important than those that relate to real estate.  Here are a few of the most salient.

  • Short sale taxation relief extended for another year until January 1, 2014
  • Deduction of mortgage insurance premium is retroactive to 2012 and extended to 2013 for incomes under $110,000
  • 10% tax credit [up to $500] for energy-saving home improvements retroactive to 2012 and through 2013.
  • Capital gains tax stays at 15% except for those earning over $400,000 [single filer] or $450,000 [joint] and then it’s 20%.
  • $250,000/$500,000 [single/married] exclusion on capital gain from sale of principal residence remains unchanged.
  • Estate taxes on first $5 million for individual and $10 million for family estates are ZERO.  Above those amounts, the rates are 35% and 40% respectively.

Effect of Real Estate Provisos of 2013

Given these provisos, it’s clear that real estate remains in a privileged position as far as federal taxes go. Not only do homeowners get a tax deduction  for the interest in their mortgage payments, which is unheard of in other developed countries, such as Australia and Canada, but we can deduct mortgage insurance premiums which are only applied if the equity in the home is less than 20%. By extending this tax deduction, Congress is implicitly encouraging home ownership among those who do not have the traditional 20% down payment. Is this a good thing? Considering the recent mortgage meltdown, maybe not.  It does help lenders and real estate professionals, though.

Homeowners also get to purchase equipment for their homes and then deduct some of the cost–just so long as it saves energy and fits the criteria.  Naturally, no one can argue that energy-saving is bad, but here the government supports homeowners and no one else.

Additionally, estate taxes on the first $5 or $10 million, depending, amount to nothing. This also supports homeowners since a large proportion of most estates of this size is made up of real estate holdings, both principal residence and investment properties. Again, the tax code is supporting home ownership and investment in property.

Last, but not least, the tax code encourages home ownership by not taxing any capital gain up to $250,000 or $500,000 respectively. This means that home owners can sell their homes frequently, pocket the gain or purchase a more expensive home, without worrying at all about taxes. This has been part of the tax code several decades, though the amounts have increased, and does encourage home ownership. In fact, it encourages or at least does not discourage serial home ownership.  Of course, this benefits those who change jobs and must change jobs, but it also benefits lenders and real estate professionals.

Extending the tax relief to those who short sale their homes is in a different category. So long as underwater homeowners face no tax penalties for short selling their homes,  they will usually prefer it to the foreclosure alternative. At the same time, short sales are a much faster way of  dealing with an inability or unwillingness to pay the mortgage in underwater homes.  Short sales help to clear the vast inventory of underwater property which has been clogging the system for the past few years making it difficult for the real estate industry to recover.

 

What Is The Best Investment Property? Part 1

With the low mortgage rates and super-low housing prices, many investors who have fled the crazy stock market would like to invest in real estate. Most of us think we know something about real estate and, really, we do. After all, everyone lives in real estate of one kind or another. Owning your own home and owning a rental-producing asset are two different things, however. Let’s assume you are looking to purchase rental property for the first time. Let’s also assume that you will have the 30% or 20% down to invest and want to leverage your money to best possible advantage. What would be the best use of your money?

fourplex

Single-Family or Multi-Family?

Many first-time investors automatically gravitate towards single-family homes.  That’s what most people know best, so it makes sense. But, is that the best use of the available money? I would say no. On the same amount of land and  often for the same price, it’s possible to purchase a duplex, a triplex or a quadruplex. That means for the same money, you will get double, triple or quadruple the rent. It also means that if one renter does not pay, you still are receiving half the rent, two-thirds or three-quarters. This will make quite a difference because you have to pay the mortgage and the expenses of the property every month whether you have tenants or not.

Therefore,  all things being equal, which they never are exactly, my preference is to purchase a multi-family dwelling instead of a single family one.  A fourplex is probably the most units a first-timer can handle.  Beyond the fourplex also more complicated loans apply. An investor can even purchase up to a four-unit building with an FHA loan which requires only about 3.5% down plus another 3 to 4% in closing costs. Using such a loan puts the investor at a significant advantage due to the gain in leverage from the smaller down payment. fixer Fixer or Repaired?

Many first-time investors naturally tend to look at fixer properties because they are cheaper than properties in good condition.  If the investor is an experienced rehabber or in the construction business, then it might make sense to buy a fixer. As long as the buyer has experience, knows the cost of the needed materials, and can either do the work himself or can get it done at a reasonable price, integrated into the purchase price, then a fixer can be an ideal asset.

For everyone else, though, it’s really not a good idea. During the rehab, the investor is paying the mortgage but receiving no rent. Sometimes repairs take longer than anticipated. As a rule of thumb, rehabbing a property always costs more than anticipated. Besides the loss of rent, the investor should take into consideration the wear and tear on his personal psyche. Searching out reliable contractors and overseeing their work can be exhausting. For someone with a full-time job, the time lost to the new property can never be recovered.

Fully-Occupied or Vacant?

Another issue that investors have to consider is whether they want a fully-occupied or a fully- or partially-vacant building. Often, sellers are trying to get rid of properties which they have saddled with bad tenants or tenants not paying market rents.  Asking for the rent roll and checking it carefully will show if the existing tenants are paying or not. A smart investor also has a good idea what the rents for the proposed purchase property ought to be. The purchase price should usually be a multiple of the yearly rents. Thus, if the yearly gross rents amount to $26,000, then the purchase price should be about 10-12 times the rent, or $260,000- $312000, depending on the market.  In some markets investors will find properties for significantly less.

In the MLS listings, frequently the would-be investor will encounter “pro-forma” rents alongside the actual rents of the property. This means the seller has failed to keep his rents at market, so the potential  or “pro-forma” market rents are included.  That’s fine as long as the price of the property is calibrated on the actual, not the pro-forma, rents. Of course, usually sellers want to base their price on the pro-forma rents.

But, think about it. The new investor will have to approach the existing tenants with a hefty rent increase as a first introduction, not a good start. Some of the tenants will leave rather than pay more. Others will have to be evicted. Whatever happens, it will cost time and money for the new investor. Reasonably, then, the investor should not pay pro-forma prices.

If the investor feels confident that the current renters are paying close to market rents and have a good history of on-time payment, that is the ideal situation. On the other hand, there are good reasons  to purchase a vacant property as well. The new owner will be able to thoroughly investigate each and every unit, which is usually not possible with tenant-occupied, making any repairs or cosmetic updates required. Plus, the new owner will set the deposit amount, the rent amount and the qualifications for the renter. Don’t want dogs? Want to check credit and do a background check? Want to limit smokers? Any of these are possible with a vacant building.

How To Assume A Non-Assumable Loan

Half the Country Has Bad Credit

It’s no secret that half the county’s credit has been trashed during the Great Recession. Due to short sales, foreclosures, bankruptcies, job loss and assorted maladies, a significant chunk of the population can no longer qualify for a mortgage loan. Add, too, the new, much more stringent, underwriting guidelines adopted by lenders in the wake of their irresponsible behavior during the “bubble” years and that creates a huge problem for many, many would-be home buyers and investors.

Assumable Loan

What to Do?

What to do? One thing buyers can do is search out seller-financed properties, though often such sellers, too, will check out the credit report and be unhappy with the result. Another, lesser-known, option is to assume an existing loan, saving thousands of dollars in closing costs to boot.  Now, this, too, has its own problems since most fixed-rate loans of the past 10 or so years have a “non-assumable” clause. This means that if the property title is transferred, the  new owner cannot take over the old mortgage. Most loans have a “due-on-sale clause”, meaning the lender can call in the entire amount of the loan in the event of a title transfer. Even the “assumable” loans usually require that the buyer qualify.

Assumable Mortgage

Some Ways To Assume a Non-Assumable Loan

Is there a work-around? Thankfully, in some cases, but certainly not all,  it may be possible to assume a non-assumable loan. Here are some of the scenarios where that may just work.

  1. Make Sure There Is A Due-On-Sale Clause. Even if the lender insists that the mortgage is not assumable, here’s a tip: read the mortgage and promissory note to make sure that it has a due-on-sale clause.  With all the confusion in the past few years, the lender may not even be able to produce the required documentation.  Without it, no due-on-sale clause is legally enforceable.  This is a check-with-a-real-estate attorney option.
  2. Death of a Joint Tenant. When the surviving joint tenant receives title after a death, federal law, the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act of 1982, prohibits the mortgage lender from enforcing a due-on-sale clause.
  3. A Related Owner-Occupant Inherits. When a related owner, such as a spouse, either occupies or continues to occupy the property, the lender cannot enforce a due-on-sale clause.
  4. A Junior Lien Is Placed On The Property. Here, too, the primary lender is enjoined from enforcing the due-on-sale clause.  In reality, the primary is in a better position if the homeowner has a second mortgage or an equity line since now two parties are  vitally interested in seeing that payments continue to flow in.
  5. An Owner-Beneficiary Trust Takes Title. These days, trusts and, especially inter vivos trusts, are used to avoid probate costs. Although the lender cannot enforce a due-on-sale clause under this scenario, the mortgage-holder does have a right to a copy of the trust.
  6. Transfer After Divorce. After a divorce the lender cannot enforce a due-on-sale clause if either children or a former spouse occupy or continue to occupy the property. They must occupy though.
  7. Ask About an Assumption Fee. Even if the situation is not one of the above, it always pays to ask the lender if an assumption is possible despite the presence of a due-on-sale clause. Especially if the loan is in default, the lender may be exceedingly happy to have the loan brought up to date often with no fee whatsoever. Lenders today have plenty of foreclosures and short sales already and so may be quite willing to make a mutually-beneficial deal.

Is The Housing Crisis Over and Out?

Housing Is On The Upswing

The Good News

The worst of housing times may be slowly working its way into a dim memory as home buyers are returning to the marketplace. The national housing stats are suggesting that the terrible pain of the last six years may, at last, be coming to an end.  According to the National Association of Realtors [NAR], national home sales rose 3.4% in April for a total of 4.6 million homes sold  and the median home price for the nation rose to $177,400, a full 10% over last year. Of course, the  NAR has a vested interest in the health of the housing sector and its stats may be on the rosy side, as many commentators have pointed out. Still, 10% increase in value, even 5%, is terrific news.

house arrow up

For more good news,  purchases of new homes rose almost 10% over last year. At the same time the purchase price of these new homes rose almost 5% to a national median of $235,700. Housing starts are up over 50% from their 2009 low.  So, it does seem as if there is some ground for optimism. Finally, the combination of  incredibly low mortgage rates and low home prices has begun to attract the public, still stunned from the worst economic downturn in decades.

Why Is This Happening?

For the millions still underwater and behind in outrageous payments, even thinking that the housing crisis may be on its way out is a cruel joke. Nevertheless, there are some solid reasons for an eventual and actual end to the housing crisis of the last few years.  Our U.S, labor market has been improving over the last two years ever so gradually, diminishing the ranks of the unemployed slightly month by month. Add to that enticing mortgage rates which remain at historic lows and it makes sense that home buyers with the wherewithal would begin to have enough confidence in their future prospects to make that big home purchase.

Rent vs. Buy

Rental rates have been rising throughout the country and renting has many advantages over owning a home. Nevertheless, rental rates are still much higher than the cost of owning a home in great swaths of the country. This is based on purchasing a home with 20% down and owning the same home for at least 5 years  Additionally,these stats take into consideration only the purchase price of the home,  not the ongoing costs of maintaining it.

Though for the most part  in Southern California rental rates are still cheaper than owning a home, the allure of home ownership is still a strong pull both for the younger, first-time buyers as well as older, more experienced ones. The many young people who have returned to live with Mom and Dad or those who have rented with roommates for several years are now yearning to live free–in their own homes.

Is The Crisis Finally Over?

Millions of homes are still underwater. Millions of homeowners are still faced with foreclosure or the prospect of short sale. With that in mind,  the housing crisis is certainly not over.  Despite the modest recovery in the U.S., now our global trading partners are starting to slow down or even crash themselves, especially the EU and the BRIC countries [Brazil, Russia, India, China], which had been keeping the economic engine stoked.  This country is recovering and we may manage to keep up the trend going mainly by satisfying pent-up internal demand, especially in housing.

 

Should I Buy Or Sell Now?

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It seems clear that now and for the rest of this year, it’s a good time to buy a home. Prices are still very low and mortgage rates are very low. Both of these factors are likely to extend through the end of the year and into 2013.

For those thinking of selling, it’s a more mixed picture. For those deeply underwater, home prices are unlikely to spike in the next few years, so better to bite the bullet and sell now.  For those who want to move up, this  seems to be the ideal time to make the move. And, of course, many have little choice in the matter: whether it’s through marriage, divorce, new babies or new jobs, selling is really the only option.

 

 

Mortgage Settlement: What To Do With The Money?

Settlement to the states

Mortgage Settlement: What To Do With the Money?

Eventually, the attorneys general  of the states got their settlement from the big banks–at least $25 billion. That’s a lot, of course, but it will be spread out over all involved states and may take forms other than direct cash infusions.

The big question is what to do with the money? Should it go, as housing advocates had assumed, to help struggling homeowners facing foreclosure? Or, should it go, as strapped state officials are maintaining almost unanimously, straight into general fund coffers to make up for some of the terrible cuts about every state has had to make?

What About California?

Taking into account credits designed to encourage the banks to make payments to homeowners, California’s share of the settlement could climb to as high as $18 billion, by far the the biggest cut of the money when all is said and done.  How eerily predictable-California’s recalcitrant budget deficit, created largely by the downturn or rather avalanche of falling home prices and thus property tax revenues–has recently been discovered to be $16 million… How fortunate…at least in the eyes of Jerry Brown who is vociferously insisting that the bulk of the funds should go to the State of California.

Who Should Get The California Money?

Although at first glance it may seem that, of course, homeowners should get the money, both points of view have strong arguments in their favor.

PRO: Homeowner

The pro for the homeowners getting the money is that, simply put, homeowners are for the most part the victims in all this. Yes, many homeowners knew in their hearts they couldn’t make the payments and, yes, some lied to get stated income loans.  Each loan could perhaps be justified as the lenders were using all sorts of rationalizations to persuade any reluctant homeowners to purchase. Home values will go up. In a year or two you can refi and lower the payment. These are just two common refrains.

On the macro level, though, homeowners who unfortunately bought or refied their homes during that crazy 5-year window from 2002 to 2007 are almost all underwater no matter how scrupulously they kept their finances. That is not their fault.

At this point, some 345,000 mortgages are delinquent in California with even more homeowners underwater but still valiantly making their payments. Should these people be given some kind of help from the settlement money? Principal reduction, perhaps, or maybe lower their interest rates? Or, should some just have their debts wiped off the books?

PRO: The State of CA

At the moment several foreclosure-prevention bills are bogged down in the state legislature.  At the very least argues Kamala Harris, the CA Attorney General who fought so hard to get the settlment, homeowners need a Bill of Rights and banks in California must be more efficiently regulated. So she and her allies are pushing hard to solidify the reforms promised by the mega-banks so this housing debacle does not happen again.  On the other side, predictably, are those very mega-banks which do not want to be so regulated along with those who, to be fair, are fearful that the tiny improvements that California housing is making could be stunted at birth.

So,  a rare legislative conference committee has been called to reconcile the two sides if possible.  Meanwhile, Gov. Jerry Brown is pushing to use some of  California’s share of the $25-billion national mortgage settlement to plug holes in the state’s budget. Actually, he has a good case and he’s aiming high; he wants a big share of the money.

A major portion of the budget woes came directly from losses when expected revenues failed  to materialize. That revenue is primarily property tax revenue, going down every year since the great recession began, and  income tax revenue, which also is failing primarily due to unemployment, especially in the construction and housing sectors. After years of cuts, the budget is already down to the bone. We all know that education and social services have been eviscerated. How can we cut more? The state relies on property tax to serve the needs of all its citizens. Without that money, many of our most needy, primarily children, the disabled, the unemployed and the old, will suffer horribly.

Too, it must be remembered why the attorneys general were going after the banks in the first place. That is a complicated story, but boils down to a failure to pay transfer taxes as required by real estate law. The states lost massive sums of tax revenue because the banks were churning the titles to properties, slicing and dicing them into mortgage-backed securities electronically and not paying the transfer tax and recording required every time a property changes ownership.

Solution: Most Likely Scenario

Both sides have good arguments in this debate over that  giant pile of money. Since this is the case, the most likely scenario will be a compromise between the two sides.

Kamala Harris is right: we need a Homeowners Bill of Rights, and the banks, like it or not and they don’t,  need good, strong regulations to control them. These two items are bare minimums.  As for giving the money to individual homeowners, if it does happen, the amounts will be small because the numbers involved are so large. Better to allocate some money to homeowners’ advocacy and education groups.

The bulk of the money, though, should go directly to the those who most need it–the citizens of this state who lost out on tax revenues due to machinations of the big banks. That is to say, the money should go to pay down the deficit and get California back on track for the first time in over 10 years.

 

Tax Benefits of Real Estate Investment

Rental Property: Amazing Tax Benefits

These days we hear a lot about the tax havens and tax loopholes available to high-income taxpayers and corporations, but  most ordinary people do not understand the amazing tax benefits offered by owning rental property. In most cases, a “taxable loss” accrues from the rental which can offset ordinary income and thus the federal income tax bite. Of course, most people’s eyes glaze over at this point, so I’m going to make this as painless as possible!

Tax Savings For Middle-Income Earners

Not everyone is going to save tax money on real estate investments. Most middle-income wage-earners, though, will.  First, let’s be clear.  It takes a certain type of person to be a landlord as indicated in a previous post.  So, looking at owning property to save money on taxes is, how do you say, bass-ackwards.

First and foremost, purchase a rental property with the idea of making money. Look for a property which will give you income after all the expenses are eliminated. This is cash-flow. Assuming you have such a property, how does it happen that even cash-flow properties can save you money on your taxes?

Rental properties generally show a “taxable loss” for many years after the purchase. This is true because, as in any business, you have the income from the rents, but then you can deduct all your expenses  to come up with your net operating income. Your expenses include repairs, utilities paid, labor costs, property management or any of a vast variety of other expenses. Once you have your net operating income, then you can deduct any mortgage interest paid to arrive at the net income.

Rental Tax Saver: Depreciation

Now, here comes the good part for rental property--depreciation. You also get to deduct 1/27.5 of the building’s cost from your net income.  This figure becomes your taxable income or, in many cases, loss. This is how even a good, cash flowing property can manage to be a loss for tax purposes. It is also how an investment property can help reduce ordinary income because this “loss” is deducted from the owner’s wage income and can often substantially reduce income tax owed.

There is a hitch, naturally. If losses are over $25,000 and ordinary income is over $100,000, then the taxpayer may not be able to deduct the whole amount due to Passive Activity Loss Limitations. Still, the taxpayer does get all other ordinary deductions and may well substantially reduce the amount of tax owed. Owning real estate is one of the best tax strategies allowed by the current tax code. Anyone earning any kind of money really should consider investing in rental property, whether residential, multi-family or commercial.

Today’s real estate market offers amazing opportunities for anyone thinking about investing in real estate. Mortgage rates are incredibly low, values are lower than they have been in many years and rents have not dipped. Want to discuss rental property? Call me anytime.