“Should I Stay or Should I Go?”

| Greg Wang

In 1981, English punk rock band The Clash wrote “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” about the rocky personal relationships between members of the band when facing the dilemma of sticking together or breaking up. The lyrics could not be more appropriate for homeowners buried in a mountain of negative equity and wondering what […]

In 1981, English punk rock band The Clash wrote “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” about the rocky personal relationships between members of the band when facing the dilemma of sticking together or breaking up. The lyrics could not be more appropriate for homeowners buried in a mountain of negative equity and wondering what to do. After all “if I go there will be trouble and if I stay it would be double.”

The first step in answering this question is to find out if you qualify for a modification or if you can refinance using the HARP program to take advantage of today’s low interest rates. The process of getting a modification can be very frustrating.  It’s “always tease, tease, tease, you’re happy when I am on my knees.” It not only takes a while to get approved, you must keep in mind that the lender does not have a legal obligation to offer or approve a loan modification. It is important to note that they may dual track your file, which means that while they are considering the modification they are moving forward with the foreclosure. Sometimes they “set you free” and foreclose in the middle of your modification application.

Let’s say you get a modification. I have a Client who was approved for what at first appeared to me to be an unbelievable loan modification. The modification did not lower the principle but did lower the interest rate to just 2 percent and locked that in for 30 years! This reduced their payment to the same amount that they would pay to rent a similar property. As such, it certainly seemed reasonable to stay – they get to keep their credit intact and remain owners, while paying no more than they would in rent anyway. Plus the payment remains fixed for 30 years, while rents would increase. But that analysis is incomplete. The question that remains is their status when they might want or need to sell, and when do they break even given the substantial negative equity that would remain?

Life events like divorce, death, job loss, job transfer, and others happen. Also sometimes folks just want to relocate. Based on our analysis, and assuming long-term home price appreciation rates, these folks would need to stay until 2026 to simply BREAK EVEN vs. paying rent. Worse, unless they use the rent savings to pay down principal, they’ll be stuck upside down in the property, and unable to sell without bank approval of a short sale until 2033. So whether or not it is a good deal for them depends a lot on how long they plan to stay.

For most of my Clients, the best financial decision appears to be to try to short sell their current home, or if necessary let the bank foreclose. If they then rent for 2 to 3 years they should be able to qualify again to buy. Assuming interest rates don’t skyrocket, or some other major change doesn’t occur, this will save them over $100,000, and give them the flexibility to move if needed without being stuck in their current prison of debt until 2033.

Unfortunately, few homeowners facing this decision have the financial skills to really analyze the various scenarios, and few will consult a qualified accountant or other professional to do it for them.

This analysis is different for every homeowner facing this question. How far under water they are, and the terms of the loan modification are clearly important. It also requires some assumptions about price appreciation, rent inflation, and future interest rates. And importantly, it requires some serious thought as to how long they plan to stay, and perhaps some soul searching on the moral implications of walking away.

Bottom line, this question can be answered only by the homeowner based on their current situation and what is best for them. Would you stay or would you go now?

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Homeownership rate experiences biggest drop in 70 years!

| Greg Wang

The U.S. homeownership rate experienced its biggest drop in 2010 in 70 years, dropping to 65.1%, down from 66.2% in 2000, according to data from the Census Bureau. The decline came even as the nation added 15.8 million housing units, increasing the total housing inventory by 13.6%, the Census Bureau said Thursday. Eleven states suffered […]

The U.S. homeownership rate experienced its biggest drop in 2010 in 70 years, dropping to 65.1%, down from 66.2% in 2000, according to data from the Census Bureau.

The decline came even as the nation added 15.8 million housing units, increasing the total housing inventory by 13.6%, the Census Bureau said Thursday.

Eleven states suffered declines of at least two percentage points in their homeownership rates, led by South Carolina, with a decrease of 2.88 percentage points.

Nevada, the state that experienced the biggest housing boom in the nation over the past decade, saw its homeownership rate fall by 2.09 percentage points. The state’s housing units grew by 41.9% from 2000 to 2010. Housing growth outpaced population growth — which was already the fastest in the nation — by almost 7 percentage points.

Nevada, also registered the biggest growth in vacancy rates. The state’s vacancy rate, a measure of the share of unoccupied units on the Census survey, rose by 5.1 percentage points in 2010 from 10 years earlier. It stood at 14.3% at the end of 2010.

That increase “was almost completely driven by the increase in Clark County,” said Ellen Wilson, a statistician in the Census Bureau’s Economic and Housing Statistics Division, on a conference call Thursday. Clark County, home to Las Vegas, saw a 6.4 percentage point increase in vacant units.

Nevada’s vacancy rate was followed by Florida, (up 4.2 percentage points); Michigan (up 4 percentage points); and Georgia (up 3.9 percentage points).

The 10 states with the highest housing unit growth rates were in the West and South. After Nevada, Arizona clocked the second-largest gain, as its housing inventory rose by 29.9%, followed by Utah, with a 27.5% gain, and Idaho, with a 26.5% increase.

California had the most total housing units in 2010, as it did in 2000, with an inventory of 13.68 million units. Texas was next, with 9.98 million units, followed by Florida, which gained enough housing units to surpass New York.

Source: Liz Enochs

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A Wachovia Short Sale is the New Real Estate Heaven

| Greg Wang

Wachovia Short Sales Are Far More Superior than Any Other Short Sales As a Real Estate Broker in the trenches who hears and experiences a lot of short sales horror stories each and everyday, when we closed our first Wachovia short sale, we thought we all had died and gone to Real Estate Heaven. When the manager […]

Wachovia Short Sales Are Far More Superior than Any Other Short Sales

As a Real Estate Broker in the trenches who hears and experiences a lot of short sales horror stories each and everyday, when we closed our first Wachovia short sale, we thought we all had died and gone to Real Estate Heaven. When the manager of the short sale department for Wachovia first came to my office to talk to me about Wachovia’s short sale program. It was hard for me to believe his pitch because it sounded way too good to be true.

The truth is Wachovia takes the pain out of short sales for everyone involved in the transaction. Wacovia is a portfolio lender, meaning it made its own loans and is responsible for deciding whether to approve a short sale. Other banks such as Bank of America, CitiMortgage, Chase or Wells Fargo generally have to submit the file to their investors for approval. Depending on the guidelines those investors follow, the process can be complex, lengthy and or produce ridiculous demands that cause short sales to be rejected. Not so with Wachovia!

How Banks Other than Wachovia Handle Short Sales

First, to truly appreciate a Wachovia short sale, it helps to look at the short sale process adopted by most major banks. Once you realize what hell those banks put a seller and buyer through, you’ll understand why Wachovia is special.

Here are some of the problems with other short sale banks:

  • The worst problem is it takes too long. Buyers get tired of waiting for short sale approval and cancel their purchase because banks can’t process their short sales fast enough. It can take a minimum of 6 weeks to 6 months or longer to get short sale approval.
  • Banks require a ton of paperwork from the sellers. They generally want their last 2 years of tax returns, W2s, payroll stubs, completed financial statement, bank statements, hardship letter, in addition to a slew of documentation from the listing agent.
  • Some banks demand seller contributions, even on California purchase-money loans. Purchase money loans in California are typically exempt from a deficiency judgment in the event of a foreclosure, but to grant a short sale, the banks may demand money from the seller.
  • Often, when there are two short sale loans, the two banks fight over how much the second bank will receive. Some second lenders try to push sellers to commit short sale mortgage fraud. It’s a nasty situation all the way around!
  • By the time the short sale finally closes, the sellers often feel broken down, beat up and battered. They wonder why they even tried to do the right thing by choosing a short sale over a foreclosure. And even after closing, sometimes the bank’s departments are so confused that the short sale department forgets to notify the foreclosure department that the transaction has closed, and the bank files foreclosure anyway.

How Wachovia Handles a Short Sale

With Wachovia, it’s like opening the door at the train station in Venice and discovering the Grand Canal is at your feet, looking just like a picture postcard. Like Dorothy in Wizard of Oz, leaving her black-and-white world and entering the colorful Land of Oz. It’s like eating chocolate for breakfast.

Before rendering an opinion on the short sale, Wachovia asks for basically 3 things:

  • The buyer’s and seller’s signed purchase offer.
  • The buyer’s preapproval letter and proof of funds.
  • The seller’s listing agreement.

A representative from Wachovia will either call or visit the seller at home to discuss the seller’s financial situation and appraise the home. If there are two short sale lenders, Wachovia knows how much the second lender is likely to accept and offers that sum to the lender. A HUD statement is then delivered to Wachovia by the Title Company, and a decision is rendered, generally within a few weeks.

In certain situations, Wachovia will offer the seller a cash bonus to assist with moving expenses. All short sale banks should approve short sales like Wachovia and when they do the entire Real Estate Community will all feel like they have all died and gone to Real Estate Heaven! 🙂

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The True Cost of Waiting

| Greg Wang

I Want a Bigger/Nicer Home but… Over the past few weeks I have talked to many present and past Clients that are current homeowners that would like to move up to a larger or a nicer home, but are patiently waiting for the market to improve.  A frequently heard complaint is that they can’t sell their home […]

I Want a Bigger/Nicer Home but…

Over the past few weeks I have talked to many present and past Clients that are current homeowners that would like to move up to a larger or a nicer home, but are patiently waiting for the market to improve.  A frequently heard complaint is that they can’t sell their home for what it is currently worth.

Buying up in a down market is actually advantageous because while you might get less for the home you’re selling, you’re also getting the larger home for less.  For instance, if you had to sell a $400,000 home for a 10% discount, you might feel that you left $40,000 on the table.  However, buying a $600,000 for the same 10% discount would put you $20,000 ahead on the sale and purchase. (The $ 60,000 you gain by buying at a 10% discount minus the $ 40,000 you lose by selling at a 10% discount equals a $ 20,000 profit.)

The other obvious matter is that when the mortgage rate increase while you’re waiting for the market to improve, it dramatically increases your cost of housing with higher payments.  The cost of housing is affected by price and mortgage rates.

To accurately evaluate your current options, you need facts and assessment tools that will provide you the information to make an informed decision. Below is a example that simply illustrates how by just waiting to move up to a larger home while the mortgage rate increases how much more the house will cost while you wait for the market to improve.

Therefore, if you have contemplated on moving up to a larger home now is the perfect time to make that move before the interest rate increases and you end up paying more for the same house.

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Why Investing in Rentals Could Be a Good Move Now?

| Greg Wang

As home prices fall and rents rise, some investors are plunking their money into real estate, chasing the cash flow that comes along with becoming a landlord. “For the first time in a long time, you can buy that home and can get a cash-on-cash return immediately,” said William King, director of valuation services for […]

As home prices fall and rents rise, some investors are plunking their money into real estate, chasing the cash flow that comes along with becoming a landlord.

“For the first time in a long time, you can buy that home and can get a cash-on-cash return immediately,” said William King, director of valuation services for Veros Real Estate Solutions, a supplier of housing data to the country’s largest banks, as well as government organizations. “There are a lot of places in the country where an investor can buy a single-family home, rent it, and get a positive cash flow.”

In fact, investors bought 20% of all the homes sold in April, according to the National Association of Realtors. Some of them are buying with cash.

But even if they do finance part of the purchase, they’re able to turn around a profit much quicker than they would have been able to in the past, King said. And the return on rentals can be much better than returns on other investments these days, he added.

In the past, investors would subsidize their monthly payments on a property with the rent they were able to collect, and the big payoff was the price appreciation he or she would accumulate, he said. Now, investors can come in with a 25% or 30% down payment, finance the rest, and the rent they collect often can cover the mortgage payment, taxes and insurance — with additional cash left over, he said.

“Investors are looking at these properties on a monthly income generating basis,” said Alex Villacorta, director of research & analytics at Clear Capital, a firm that provides data for real-estate asset valuation and risk assessment to financial services companies. “They can start to realize instant profit margins, even as the market goes down more.”

“There’s a turning point where the cost of owning a home is less than the cost of renting,” he said. “When that disparity grows … we will see a push from investors to pick up investment properties.”

In general, that investors are beginning to snap up rental properties is a good thing for the stabilization of housing markets, King said. It’s also one of the ways that a floor on real-estate prices can be established; as more investors spot opportunities in residential markets, prices could bottom.

“Once investors come into a community, you’re seeing the beginning of the end of the decline,” King said.

What to look for

Before investing in a rental, make sure you’ve considered the harsh realities of becoming a landlord, said Mike Litzner, broker and owner of Century 21 American Homes, which has locations in Long Island, Queens, Nassau and Suffolk Counties. He’s also a landlord.

“There are some people who think it’s glamorous, but when you get the wrong tenants, it can be a nightmare,” he said. That said, when you get the right tenants and the properties perform as expected, it can be a “tremendous” way to make a buck — and he believes the “smart money” is now working its way into the marketplace.

Before considering any purchase, decide if you have it in you to be a landlord. You have to be willing to set expectations and consequences to ensure rents are paid on time, and you have to ready for the possibility of evicting non-paying tenants, he said. Plus, you’re responsible for the upkeep of the property, no matter how your tenants treat it.

From there, it’s a numbers game. Get a sense of what rents are in the area you’re considering, the vacancy rate, and consider your costs of financing, Villacorta said. Don’t forget the other costs of owning a property, including taxes and upkeep. Some investors may want to enlist the help of a real-estate agent to assist with analyzing the market.

Remember, often the best investment is a home you wouldn’t necessarily buy to live in yourself, Litzner said. These days, foreclosures can be snapped up at bargain prices, and as long as you have the means to make required repairs, they can represent good opportunities.

Don’t buy the most expensive house in the neighborhood,” King said, “and look at the broader community. Where are the renters going to come from, and what do they do?” Areas near colleges and military installations can be good places to invest; and think about what renters typically look for, including access to public transportation, he said.

Some of the houses bought in the worst conditions ended up being the best investments for Litzner, who was able to put some sweat equity into the homes before renting them out. It’s also important that investors have multiyear plans for the properties they buy, planning the financials at least 5 years into the future, he said.

Best markets

Many investors sink their money into properties not far from where they live. Those are likely the communities they’re most familiar with, and from a management perspective, you’re never far from the tenants you’re dealing with.

But some markets are better than others to invest in right now.

A recent report from Inman News, an online real-estate industry publication, named the 10 best markets for home investors. These are markets with traits including high affordability, low prices, high share of foreclosure sales, high population growth, improving unemployment rate, and high return on investment in the next 10 years.

The following are their top 10 markets:

  1. Indianapolis-Carmel, Ind.
  2. Winchester, Va.-W.Va.
  3. Gainesville, Fla.
  4. Tucson, Ariz.
  5. Tallahassee, Fla.
  6. Hagerstown-Martinsburg, Md.-W.Va.
  7. Salt Lake City
  8. Richmond, Va.
  9. Gainesville, Ga.
  10. Winston-Salem, N.C.

Source:  Amy Hoak, Wall Street Journal

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