Are Buyers Getting Ripped Off with REO Escrow Fees?

[Warning: rant ahead].

Recently I’ve closed a couple of REO transactions lately where I’ve been dismayed at what the escrow companies are charging the buyers. They claim it’s is warranted because of the extra work that goes into processing a bank owned property…I could almost buy this EXCEPT it’s not the buyer who has created any additional work.

Adding to my frustration is that this exorbitantly higher escrow fee tends to not be split equally between the buyer and  seller (the bank or lender). I’ve heard of builders receiving discounted escrow fees, however the buyer pays what would have been the normal half.  With the REO’s I’ve seen lately, the fees have been almost double what I would consider “normal”.  Some of the fees have been so high, it can jeopardize a smaller transaction becoming a “high cost loan”.

On a recent closing, on a $70,000 condo in West Seattle, I called to obtain a quote from an escrow company where Freddie Mac was the seller. The quote I received was for $848. I asked the assistant if this was the full fee or the buyers half, since the quote I was using from my preferred provider was $438. She replied “full” (meaning the $848 would be split 50/50 between seller and buyer). When we received our estimated HUD, the buyer’s escrow fee was jacked back up to $848 and to make matters worse, the escrow company was trying to not honor their written quote to me. After dealing with several managers, the escrow company agreed to meet my quote of $438…it’s not half of $848 but it’s definitely closer to what would be a fair escrow fee for the buyer in this price range.

To add insult to injury, it seems the service from these escrow companies is lack-luster to say the least. It’s as if the company “won” a big bid and therefore service to the buyer, the consumer, just isn’t important since there will be plenty of gravy business to continue.

Home buyers can shop for their escrow provider, however when it’s an REO situation, 9 times out of 10 (if not all of the time), the escrow company has already been dictated.

I understanding charging more when there is more work that is actually being done with a transaction – as long as it’s fair and reflects the actual level of work that’s being done on that transaction.

It really frustrates me.

SIDE NOTE: I’ve only had excellent service from Legacy Escrow – my rant has NOTHING to do with them.

Rant over…for now!  🙂

It’s time for a ban on all third party short sale negotiators.

Not a day goes by that I do not hear a story from a Realtor, loan originator or consumer about a questionable if downright bad experience with a third party short sale negotiator. We’ve reached a point in time where we ought to consider eliminating all third party short sale negotiators. At the end of this article I will provide suggestions for home sellers, home buyers, real estate brokers/Realtors, attorneys, and regulators in order to maximize good consequences and minimize bad consequences for all parties.

Yesterday I received a frantic call from a homebuyer we’ll call Maggie, who found me online via this blog post. Maggie fell in love with a short sale house but after her offer was accepted and moving toward the close of escrow, the third party short sale negotiator announced that since the lender would not pay his full fee (short sale negotiator was already being paid $3000), as the buyer, she would have to come up with an additional $7,000 at the close of escrow.  Maggie was in love with the house but didn’t have the extra 7K so the third party short sale negotiator suggested she get a loan and pay him after the close of escrow.

There are so many things wrong with the above scenario I don’t even know where to begin.  So let’s begin at the beginning. The growth of fee-based, third party short sale negotiators was fueled by a perfect storm:

1) Collapse of the real estate bubble and resulting growth of over-mortgaged homeowners.
2) Rapid growth in the need for real estate listing brokers who know how to negotiate a short sale.
3) Decimation of the subprime industry and resulting out-of-work loan originators and Realtors.
4) “Get rich quick

Is King County at 2001 or 2005 price levels?

Was reading the questions in the comments over on The_Tim’s post about “The Bottom Falling Out on the Low Tier”. That prompted me to run some numbers on two cities in King County. One of which is moving more solidly back into the low tier…and quickly. Another that has been in the high tier since before prices started increasing dramatically in the credit boom years.

Before I post the data, I think we should strike the tiers of 2001 and 2011 based on all Single Family Home sales in King County only, since Case-Shiller tiers are based on a different set of criteria. For this purpose I remove single and double wides, houseboats and townhomes and deal only with detached single family homes. I am using the first 5,000- homes sold in each of those years to set the tier values, since my home calculator stops at 5,000 homes. For 2001 that is the 1st quarter sales. For 2011 that is through the end of April.


Low Tier – < $216,000
Mid Tier – $217,000 – $310,000
High Tier – $311,000+

with median of high tier at $400,000


Low Tier – < $274,000
Mid Tier – $274,000 – $447,000
High Tier – $447,000+

with median of high tier at $614,000

For those wondering why these Tier Pricings are so very different from Case-Shiller numbers, it’s because Case-Shiller combines King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties. These are for King County only. ALSO, I’m pretty sure Case-Shiller uses resale (matched pairs) and pretty much excludes New Construction entirely, and a lot of Redmond’s story and the high price tier story is in that New Construction.

The dramatic change in the median price of the high tier tells us A LOT!

Obviously based on median prices, King County is no where near 2001 levels, BUT the following data is a bit startling.

graph (16)

Redmond running a hair under 2005 median home price, but no where near 2004 median pricing. Federal Way on the other hand quickly degenerating toward 2001-2002 pricing.

Of course once you have some more information…you have to keep going to determine the why of it. “Why” never has ONE standout answer…but the mix of foreclosures is clearly a BIG part of the story.

2011 fwr

I remember reading a question on a general forum asking why a person can’t find a foreclosure home to buy in their area of preference, when all the news stories are pointing to the DELUGE of foreclosures? Well, ZOMG! that snapshot of the market above “tells a story…don’t it?” to quote Rod Stewart.

Now compare that to 2010 and you will quickly see why the Bottom Tier is pulling away…and getting HAMMERED!


The % of Foreclosures and Pre-Foreclosures (short-sales) in Redmond has barely changed. Federal Way? Well…maybe they have no place to go but up? Certainly hope so.

Now let’s look at the HUGE decline in Price of Bank Owned Property 2010 to 2011. This is going to knock your socks off.

Sorry…have to throw this in as a link over. The chart won’t load.

The short of it for people who don’t like to click on links is that the Bank Owned Solds in Federal Way not only jumped UP from 28% of total sales to 47% of total sales, but the median price of those Bank Owned sales declined from $191,000 to $156,000. WAY below 2001 pricing, and with the volume of them, they dragged the median overall sold price down from $246,000 in 2010 to $199,000 YTD 2011. Maybe it will swing back a bit by year end. But Holy Caboley!

As you will also see in that link, Redmond Bank Owned solds did not change much at all as a % of total sales, BUT the median price of those dropped from $475,000 to $330,000. Still…not enough of them to impact the overall median sold price much in Redmond.

Redmond is easier for me to explain, since I don’t work in Federal Way. Let’s see if I can get another graph to load up. WordPress is liking graphs better than Raw Data Charts.


I combined these two so you can see the dramatic difference. Homes Sales in Redmond are being bolstered by the fact that a LOT of new and newer homes are being sold. You may see that change dramatically in 2012 as the builders seem to be shifting over to Sammamish due to the fact that they have used up a lot of the available land in Redmond.

To some extent the shift will move from 98052 to 98053, 98074 and 98075. But will the buyers shift with them? Probably yes, unless there are a lot more newer homes on resale in 98052 to compete with the travelling builders. You may say there are still plenty of newer resale homes in 98052, but track that against school rankings, and you will see what is happening there with regard to Elementary Schools.

So the drastic decline in Redmond Bank Owned Sold Price from 2010 to 2011 has a lot to do with the % of homes that are, or more aptly said WERE, newer homes. It looks like the glut of spec home leftovers here and there were pretty much sucked up in 2010 when 80% of the Bank Owned Sales were NEW…built since 2005…and most never lived in. Those empty new homes, some completely finished…some not so much especially as to landscaping, are pretty much gone.

Scanning at my notes here (my desk looks like the whacky professor after doing all of these stats on scribbles before processing them into charts and graphs) I’m seeing that the total # of foreclosed properties in Redmond 2011 that were built prior to 1980 are equal to the total # of foreclosures in 2010 of which 80% were built after 2005.

So the decline in price of foreclosed homes in Redmond (as noted in the link above) has more to do with the AGE of those homes, than a drop in prices.

Why the big drop in price in Federal Way? Age of homes does not seem to account for that. I don’t work in Federal Way…so it’s not as easy for me to read reality into the data there, as it is for me in Redmond. My best guess is that it is a degenerating market…like a cancer growing…each new set of foreclosures running off a discount of the current median price. Each new wave of foreclosures dragging that median price down due to sheer volume…and the downward spiral is feeding on itself.

Will be interesting to see if any of this swings back into place by year end. My gut tells me 2012 is going to be a wild ride. Looks like Federal Way has no place to go but up, let’s hope so.

Redmond on the other hand is likely going to lose a lot of that huge support from the new construction homes over to Sammamish, unless we start seeing a whole lot more newer home resales coming on market. That may also be good news for people in Redmond who have been trying to sell their built prior to 2000 homes. I have a feeling it will.

I just don’t see all of the Redmond buyers running over to 98074. Some, yes. Relocation Buyers, yes. But for the most part, either sales volume is going to plummet…or people are going to starting getting a whole lot more interested in some of those older homes that have been languishing on market during the new construction surge up on Education Hill. Probably a little of each.

More graphs and data on the above HERE, HERE and HERE. The last one helps you track the median price for these two cities in each year since 2001, so you can see the rise and fall to and from peak.

(Required Disclosure – Stats in this post and it’s graphs and charts are not compiled, verified or published by The Northwest Multiple Listing Service.)

Short Sales & the “new” Mortgage Fraud

see-no-evilShort Sales continue to be problematic for all concerned. So much so that “right” seems to be the minority “opinion”. At least I think I’m “right”…but apparently so does everyone else with a completely opposite opinion.

So you tell me…Am I RIGHT or am I RIGHT?

The pretty simple short of it is: IF you sell your house short…you have to MOVE OUT! While many do not dispute this, I recently commented on this question of a Broker in Florida on this issue. I appear to be the ONLY person in almost 200 comments, most all from agents, who thinks the agent is supposed to check that the seller has moved out on the day of closing, or the day all parties agree that the seller was supposed to move out.

Crazy. Just Crazy!

As my friend in Philly once said to me,

“Ardell, everyone does “the right thing”. We just don’t all agree on what “the right thing” is.

In the post the question is “What is the Penalty for Breaking an Arm’s Length Transaction Notice?”BUT he seems to think his problem is that he drove by months later and the “former owners” waved at him from the front lawn. He thinks he just “found out” the sellers didn’t move out, when in fact he should have been “in charge” of knowing whether or not they DID move out in the first place! I mean…seriously…do agents not accept responsibility for ANYTHING anymore??? …and…wait for it…this guy TEACHES a class on Short Sales. Jillayne’s gonna LOVE that one.

The Buyer, Seller and BOTH AGENTS signed this:

arm's length

No ambiguity there. Seller is NOT to remain in the property…PERIOD! But apparently “see no evil” is the excuse! Didn’t bother to notice that the seller hadn’t moved out on the day of closing? It’s pretty obvious the agent DID know the seller wasn’t going to move out that day…but “thought” that was a short term thing. BUT didn’t write a short term occupancy agreement to cover that and send it to all parties to sign, and the lienholder, PRIOR to closing!

But…no one except me thinks the agent was supposed to check that the seller in fact…MOVED OUT! Crazy. Just Crazy.

Examples of other responses:

“Well you certainly did not do anything wrong and you have little to worry about. the buyer and seller have to worry unless they can prove that the idea of the sellers regain occupancy came AFTER close of escrow..and the longer after the close, the better.”

A general consensus is all is well as long as they did not “intend” to stay as tenants at the time they signed the Arms Length Agreement and LATER decided not to move out. Even the attorney who responded says it is about “intent” when they signed the Arms Length Agreement, and not whether or not the seller actually moved out!

My response was long and very clear that the agent needs to LOOK IN THE HOUSE on the day of closing and make sure the seller is GONE! If not…I list the steps that need to be followed BEFORE the property closes. YES…STOP the closing!

“You are likely at fault for not providing the necessary paperwork for all to sign at closing to address the property not being vacant on the day of closing. The standard is not what you did know. It is what you should have known. If the contract had no post occupancy terms for the lienholder to review and know about before closing, it is because you did not cause them to be there.

So it depends on whether or not they broke an agreement AFTER closing, that you wrote before or at closing. If the contract stated possession day as closing day, then you were aware, or should have been aware, that the possession was not transferring on day of closing in accordance with the contract terms. You should have seen/witnessed a vacant property before closing OR written up a post possession agreement if it were not vacant.

If on the day of closing you knew it was not empty (and you should have even if you didn’t) and the loose agreement between buyer and seller was an extra day or more of occupancy, then you should have written up that agreement with an end date. You should then have sent that agreement to all parties, including the lienholder and the buyer’s lender. If the buyer bought it as owner occupied vs an investor loan, there is potentially lender fraud on two counts, but you can probably get concurrent terms of sentence on that. 🙂

Was the insurance policy at closing for an owner, or a landlord policy? Did it have a vacant property rider? Or was the policy done as an occupied property with a tenant in place? Pretty easy for investigators to note if the buyer’s insurance policy did not note a landlord policy with a vacant property rider, meaning the buyer, buyer’s lender and buyer’s insurance company thought it would be vacant at closing vs occupied.

If the agreement had no post occupancy provision (and since you don’t mention one I’ll assume it did not), then it was your obligation to view the property as vacant prior to closing and prior to giving the buyer the keys to the house.

There is no excuse for your not knowing the property wasn’t vacant and writing up a post possession agreement once you knew it was not vacant immediately prior to closing.

Let’s say you DID write up a 3 day post possession or a 10 day post possession or even a 30 day post possession agreement, and that document was signed by buyer and seller as part of the contract and sent to all parties and lenders/lienholders. If the parties subsequently extended or ignored that agreement, then you “may” not be liable, depending on how that post posession was worded.

But if the property was not vacant prior to closing and you did not write that up in a post possession agreement, then you are liable for not having done so.

To which several replied:

“See no evil…hear no evil…speak no evil. i would leave well enough alone.”

Forget “crazy”…this answer is INSANE!:

“There is a legal way to get around these laws because this is the United States and people are free to do as they please.”

Lots of nails in this coffin…where are the agent’s brokers? Don’t they read this stuff?

“Shrewd buyer. Approach the sellers “AFTER” the short sale. Sellers are innocent, and you have an “Avoid Jail Free” card.”

“It appears that no one has done anything wrong…”

“Sounds like an issue for the two lenders involved, not the RE agents.”

“I’m sure the bank is too busy with all the other foreclosures and short sales to really be trying to document all the new tenants in homes that have closed. I’m sure you’ll be fine…”

And a direct response from the agent in the transaction who wrote the blog post:

“ARDELL. I completely disgree that I have an obligation to check whether or not the property is vacant at time of closing.”

Recently my friend Kevin Tomlinson said this about The “new” Mortgage Fraud:

“An example of a non-arms-length transaction would be where a seller “short sells

New WA State Short Sale Seller Advisory and Licensee Guidance Bulletins

The Real Estate Division of the Washington State Department of Licensing and the Department of Financial Institutions have issued two bulletins about short sales. The DOL  Short Sale Advisory is for home sellers but really should be for both sellers AND their Realtors/real estate brokers.  DFI’s companion advisory is titled “Short Sale Guidance for Licensees” and contains many Q&As for both loan modification and short sale negotiation services. 

The DOL Seller Advisory contains basic education about short sales, the deficiency, “walking away” by letting the home go into foreclosure, options for homeowners in financial distress, warnings about predatory loan mod firms and other scams, and where to go for free help. The DOL Advisory also offers a signature page for the seller. There’s not a place for the real estate listing broker to sign the DOL Advisory.  I’d also like to see the Advisory offered in different languages. From the Advisory:

“FIRST, Understand that a Short Sale May not Discharge the Debt. You should know whether you will still owe your lender money (a deficiency) after the short sale. You should know this BEFORE you close the sale of your home. Even if a lender agrees to a short sale, the lender and any junior lien holders, may not agree to forgive the debt entirely and may require you to pay the difference as a personal obligation. This outstanding personal obligation could result in a subsequent collection action against you. For example, a lender may accept the short sale purchase price to “release the lien

Truliaboy Refinances His Short Sale Purchase

Truliaboy PuppyBack in early October, I wrote a brief story of a young man (whom I have dubbed as “Truliaboy”) who purchased a nice home via a short sale at 15% under the then current market value. It is a beautiful home on over an acre of land purchased for less than $300,000. With his permission I am posting this follow up story for the benefit of those who purchased “awesome deals” with little down, to show how one person was able to get rid of the Mortgage Insurance Premium via a refinance, and save a lot of money on interest as well, less than one year after his original purchase.

At time of purchase, the Annual Percentage Rate (including up front loan costs) on Truliaboy’s TIL (Federal Truth-In-Lending Disclosure Statement) was 5.336%. The recent refinance that closed last week carries an APR of 4.491%…a considerable savings. On the original 30 year loan, the Total Finance Charges for the life of the loan show as $260,169.12. On the recent refinance the new charges for the life of the loan show as $221,385.09.

Total Savings = $38,784.03.

Back to the issue of the Mortgage Insurance Premium. The Mortgage Insurance Premium on the original loan was $109 a month, and the loan amortization on the TIL included this amount for the first 9 years plus 5 months on a slightly decreasing scale. $109 a month in the first year and down to $93 a month in the final payments. By eliminating the monthly mortgage insurance premium, Truliaboy saved approximately $11,300 in monthly mortgage insurance premium payments.

His original monthly payment, including MIP, was $1,536.60. His new payment is $1,363.05. Total savings in his current monthly payment $173.55 per month.

1) If you purchased a house in the last year or two at significant savings by buying a short sale or a bank owned home with less than 20% down, you should look into the possibility of getting rid of your Mortgage Insurance Premium by refinancing your loan IF the current value is likely 20% less than your new Total Mortgage Amount.

2) Be sure to re-evaluate the Total Savings vs. the Total Cost of the New Loan AFTER the new appraisal comes in. It could cost you a few hundred dollars in “wasted” appraisal fee, but you need to be ready to pull the plug IF the new appraisal does not come in at an amount that will equal a new Loan to Value that is more favorable than your original loan. Make sure the monthly savings via reduced or eliminated Mortgage Insurance Premium (and interest savings if applicable) justify the cost of the refinance. Check your “comps” in advance as much as possible, to help determine the odds of a successful outcome.

3) Be sure to make as many LOW COST improvements to the home (if you have not already done so) to help insure a successful new appraised value. Clean and stage your home for the appraiser’s visit the same as you would for a potential homebuyer.

Part of the success lies in the fact that Truliaboy made some improvements to the home in the short time that he has owned it. The cost of the home’s improvements since time of purchase was approximately $10,000 to $12,000 BUT Truliaboy used his $8,000 First Time Homebuyer Tax Credit to make a huge dent in the cost of those improvements.

That is an AWESOME example of how to spend your $8,000 Tax Credit wisely, and parlay it into additional savings over the time you will be living in the home, by using the improved value to get rid of the PMI / MIP!!!

As in the original story, Truliaboy gets all of the credit from me for a job well done…AGAIN! Though Truliaboy continues to credit St. Joseph for his HUGE success story, I think it was a combination of factors, not the least of which was Truliaboy’s efforts that caused St. Joseph to bless him with this successful outcome.

If you were wise and lucky enough to purchase a home at considerably less than the appraised value at time of purchase in the last couple of “sub-prime crisis” years, and you bought the home with less than 20% down payment, be sure to look into the possibility of turning that “instant equity” into REAL today savings by eliminating the Mortgage Insurance Premium via a refinance.

Should you sell your home?

houseFive to one, more people are asking me if they should sell their home vs. if they should buy one. That said, I have more buyer clients than seller clients. Those buyers are simply not asking IF they SHOULD buy. The most difficult scenarios are those who need to do both at the same time, who cannot buy unless they sell, and who don’t want to put their home on the market until they know where they will go if and when it sells.

I ask three questions when someone calls or emails me asking if they should sell (now).

1) Why are you thinking about selling it?

2) When did you buy it?

3) Have you “cash out” refinanced it since you bought it, and if so, when?

When you read articles like this one, and see that Seattle Area home prices are at April 2005 levels (I agree) and peaked in May of 2007 generally (I say July 2007, but close enough), it should tell you that if you purchased during that timeframe, and even between April 2005 and present, it is highly unlikley that you will be able to sell it without bringing money to closing.

Funny…no one talks much about “bringing money to closing” these days, though it happens probably at least as often as a “short sale”. Everyone assumes “upside down” homes are “short sales”, when in fact many sellers simply walk into closing with a check the same way that buyers do. Even people who are qualified to do a “short sale”, often have to bring money to closing. Just because the home sold for less than was owed, does not automatically mean that the difference was waived permanently or temporarily. Sometimes the owner pays it in full, and sometimes the owner pays it in part.

Let’s take a somewhat ludicrous example to make that point. Say the net proceeds of the sale is $500 short from covering all expenses. Likely that $500 is going to be paid by someone, and not worth going through the “short sale” process. Another example: If someone is making their payments, has $100,000 in the bank and makes $120,000 a year and is “short” $20,000, not as likely that the lienholders are going to approve a short sale. That “seller” should be bringing $20,000 to closing. This is VERY important for agents to understand as many are listing homes as short sales simply because the amount owed is in excess of current fair market value. That is NOT the only criteria to “selling short” without bringing the needed difference to closing. If the owner can choose to stay in the home if they are not approved for a short sale, if they have the means to stay and plan to stay if they are not approved, that home should really not be on the market.

Given the knowledge we have that current prices are at April 2005 levels, give or take, let’s apply that to a specific example:

Should you sell your home if you bought it in January of 2004, and are relocating with your family to another State? Let’s say it is a 2,400 sf home in Redmond in X neighborhood, for example. I see several sales in the tax records of 2,400 sf homes in that neighborhood in the 1st quarter of 2005, all selling at approximately $530,000 which is about $100,000 more than they sold for in early 2004. Cost of sale is about 8%, so let’s call expected net proceeds after sale and possible repairs at inspection at about $90,000. Always best to round down to worst case scenario. Let’s call it $75,000, because you don’t want to put your house on market with the highest of expectations. Great if you get them, but not great if you have a vacant house on market for 6 months because you “want” $90,000 net proceeds.

If you would sell it if you could walk away with $75,000 plus your down payment back, then yes you should probably sell it. One reason you might want to rent it is if you want to “leave the door open” to possibly coming back if you don’t like your new job in that new State.

If you refinanced that same house in 2007 for $650,000, then you likely want to rent it for some period if you can, so you can take the loss as a write off by turning it into a rental property vs. a primary residence before you sell it. Check with your tax accountant before putting it on market for sale.

I can’t go through a lot of examples here in the blog post, but know that:

Why are you selling it?
When did you buy it”
Did you do a cash out refinance after you bought it?

are the three most important questions to be answered, that the person who is advising you needs to know before answering the question.

If an agent says “YES! You should sell it!” without asking these questions before answering, that probably means they just want a listing so they can get buyer calls from the sign and advertising, and use your home as “inventory” to get buyer clients. 🙂

Predatory Short Sale Negotiators

I received a call the other day from a consumer who was in the process of purchasing a short sale home.  The homeowner has defaulted on her mortgage and the trustee sale auction has been postponed a few times now that this buyer’s firm offer has finally reached the lender’s loss mitigation decision-maker.  Once the offer was accepted by the seller, the homebuyer was surprised to learn that there’s a third party involved, a “Short Sale Negotiator” who is charging an additional $9,000 fee on top of the real estate commissions paid to both the agent for the seller and the agent for the buyer. The Short Sale Negotiator is demanding that the homebuyer sign an agreement that the homebuyer will be responsible for paying the $9,000 fee.  The homebuyer emailed me asking what I thought of this additional fee and could I offer some advice. 

The first thing I did was to find out the name of the Short Sale Negotiator company, the owner of the company, and the person who is doing the short sale negotiating. I discovered that the negotiation company is owned by the same person who also owns the real estate firm where the listing agent works.  I also ran the name of the short sale negotiator and discovered that this person IS a licensed real estate agent. 

Readers please note that WA State’s regulators recently changed the real estate licensing laws and there’s a great FAQ section here that answers the question: Does a Short Sale Negotiator have to be a licensed real estate agent? The answer is yes, or a licensed loan originator or otherwise exempt from licensing such as an attorney. (Clicking through from the link, scroll down to “doing business” and see the second question.)

So we have a licensed real estate agent who is earning money as a short sale negotiator who works for a company owned by the same person who owns the listing agent’s real estate company.

There are a couple of things that come to mind here. First of all, isn’t there a bit of a conflict of interest for the real estate broker/owner of that company?  Where are your duties? To the home seller, whose listing you’re charged with overseeing, or are your duties to the buyer, a client who signs the agreement to pay your other company $9K?  What are the duties of disclosure to BOTH the seller and the buyer?

For example, if I’m the seller in this transaction, charging a buyer an extra $9,000 out of pocket might preclude a number of qualified buyers to make an offer….unless I hold back this information until after the buyer has emotionally fallen in love with the home and is already arranging the furniture in his/her mind.  That seems manipulative.  Why not tell all possible prospects up front what the short sale negotiator’s fee is: Make it mandatory to display this extra fee in the PUBLIC comment section of the multiple listing service. 

You might be thinking: “Yes we could disclose this god-awful fee to the public this but that’s not in the best interest of the home seller.”  Well, okay but what happens if you end up attracting a lot of buyers but they all walk when told of this high third party fee? Now the listing agent has wasted everyone’s time.  It’s like if someone asks me out on a date and then later he tells me he’s married.  Come on! Hey, some women might say yes and it’s nice to know up front how big of an a-hole a guy is.   I say the listing agent would actually be attracting the right kind of buyer if they disclosed that their Short Sale Listing comes with baggage.  It seems to work fine for the married guys who post personal ads on craigslist day after day.

More: If there is an affiliated business arrangement going on between the two companies that are owned by the same person/people, then a RESPA-required Affiliated Business Arrangement disclosure form should ALSO be required so that the home seller and home buyer are aware of the dual company ownership. Part of that AFBA disclosure form should state that the homebuyer understands that buying this home means he/she does NOT have to use this particular short sale negotiation firm and is free to select another short sale negotiation company to do the same or similar work.  However, since a ‘short sale negotiator fee’ might not necessarily be classified as a “settlement service” then this rule might not apply. HUD are you listening? It’s highly possible that the next time a federal regulator makes it out to Washington State, the Seahawks will have won the Superbowl. Knowig this, we should look to the state regulators for assistance.

For a home buyer, a big red flag would be if the listing agent demands that you use this affiliated short sale negotiator. Demanding that a buyer use a real estate broker’s affiliated company is a licensing law violation as well as a violation of federal law when those companies are a title, escrow, appraisal company, and so forth. So why not a short sale negotiations company also?

Even more: Is the listing agent receiving part of that $9,000 fee? One way of structuring this is for the owner of both companies to promise the listing agent something like this: “if the lender cuts your commission, don’t worry, I’ll give you a portion of that $9,000 negotiator fee.”  Unearned fees are not allowed under RESPA.

Even worse: Is the short sale negotiator splitting the $9,000 with the home seller?  How fast can you say “Mortgage Fraud is now a Class B Felony in Washington State?”

The other logical problem that comes up for me when I see an additional fee of $9,000 is this: what work is being done for NINE THOUSAND DOLLARS?  That’s an awful lot of money. I could install all new vinyl windows in my 1959 house with that kind of money. I could put this in my teenager’s college fund. I could accomplish a lot with $9,000 so why would I want to pay that kind of money to a short sale negotiator?  Is this like extortion/payola in order to get that particular house for that price? 

Maybe not.  What is this third party negotiations company doing for their $9,000?  Wait, let me go find out. I’ll read their website.  Gee, there’s nothing on the website telling a consumer what their company actually does for that fee but the pictures of their team tell me they’re all good looking guys under 30. Not that there’s anything wrong with doing business with good looking guys under 30 but it should make us wonder how much experience the negotiator has at short sale negotiating.  In 2009 I believe we added ten million “short sale experts” in the real estate industry.

My advice to the consumer: Negotiate that fee down to somewhere around $1,000 to $2,000.  If the home is that close to the auction date, tell your real estate agent that you’re going to buy the home at the auction if the lender won’t approve the short sale and if the negotiators won’t go for a reduced fee.  Most of the third party short sale negotiators out there are paid much less than $9,000. 

Here’s some help with the math:  I asked the consumer to ask the short sale negotiator how many hours he’s spending on this file v. how many hours he’s working on those biceps. Consumer says the SSN said he’s spent 10 hours so far on this transation! !! !!! Wow! Well! Okay then, let’s divide $9,000 by 10 hours.  That’s a going rate of $900 per hour. That’s probably close to the hourly rate charged by the Johnnie Cochran law firm for litigation cases and I’m fairly certain that this licensed real estate agent negotiator doesn’t have as much experience or education as the JC legal team.  Counter back with $100/hour and settle around $200/hour max.

I am betting they’ll take the $2k.

Ask for the negotiator’s $2K to be put on the HUD I Settlement Statement as a seller’s closing cost.  There’s a chance the lender will pay it.  If not, the buyer needs to as himself: Is this house worth $2k out of pocket at closing?  It’s also important for the buyer’s new lender to know about this additional fee. Insist that it’s paid out through escrow and shows on the buyer’s side of the HUD I Settlement Statement if the lender refuses to pay it as a seller’s cost.

Buyers: do not agree to pay any money after closing, on the side, without disclosing this additional amount to all parties including the lender. 

Predatory Short Sale Negotiators: The world is watching you.  I wonder if your dreams are haunted the way I was haunted after watching The Hurt Locker.  Soon your predatory fees are going to explode in your face. Oh, and loan mod salesmen thinking that being a short sale negotiator is the next big way to “make six figures with no experience,” please go back to the used car lots. I’m sure there are some openings at the Toyota dealerships.

How Does a Short Sale or Foreclosure Impact Your Credit

Ardell posed a question on her last post about credit scoring that I’ve been meaning to address here at Rain City Guide on how credit scores are impacted by short sales or foreclosure.    When I was speaking at the Mortgage Girlfriends Mastermind Retreat in Scottsdale this summer, I had the opportunity to meet Linda Ferrari, a well known credit expert and author of “The Big Score – Getting It and Keeping It” (a book I highly recommend everyone read).   

According to Linda, “a foreclosure can drop a credit score 50-250 points (this includes points all ready lost to delinquent payments).   The difference in point loss depends on how many points someone has to lose in the payment history factor of his or her credit report.   Thus is someone has a 750 credit score and they opt to foreclose, their score could drop 250 points.  However if someone has a 500 credit score, they may only lose 50 points for the same derogatory.”

It hardly seems fair to me that someone who has established excellent credit and they are faced with a huge financial hardship, they’re penalized on a greater scale simply because they have “more to lose” (reminds me of our income tax system)!   With a foreclosure, you can expect to wait about 5-7 years to purchase your next home (based on current guidelines) assuming a mid-credit score of 680 and a 10% down payment for conventional financing.  

A deed in lieu of foreclosure may impact credit scores the same as a foreclosure depending on how it is reported to the credit bureaus–they don’t have to report it as a foreclosure…if they do, the credit will be scored as such.    Here’s what Linda recommends you try negotiating how the deed in lieu is reported on your credit with the lender in preferred order:

  • Paid As Agreed.  Credit scores will have already dropped over 100 points due to default in payments; however, if reported as Paid As Agreed, the borrower will be able to purchase another home in a shorter time period.
  • Paid Settlement.  Credit scores could drop 75-100 points in addition to the points already lost for delinquent payments.
  • Foreclosure.  Credit scores could drop 100-150 points in addition to the points already lost for delinquent payments.
  • One advantage of a deed in lieu of foreclsoure is you may be able to purchase a home, if you so desire, a minimum four years afterwards with 10% down payment, based on current guidelines.  

    A short sale is potentially the least damaging to your credit scores assuming you’ve been able to make mortgage payments on time.   According to Linda, credit scores may drop from 50-150 points (depending on what else is going on with your mortgage and credit history).    You may also be able to buy a home quicker using this route.   Linda Ferrari writes on her blog why you may not want to consider using a short sale as an option should you be in financial distress.  

    FHA may allow borrowers who have lost a home due to short sale, deed in lieu or foreclosure a little quicker than conventional financing–around three years depending on various factors.   Extreme extenuating circumstances may allow for a shorter time period.   Again, this is current guidelines.  I wouldn’t be one bit surprised to see FHA change this guideline to be more in line with conventional financing.

    You have to keep in mind that credit scoring is accumulative, everything is factored to come up with those three scores that are suppose to reflect your current credit.   The only real good news about credit scoring is that your scores are temporary–they are changing constantly.  Pay down a credit card, establish good payment history on your installment loan and your scores will improve over time.

    Distressed property rental income: Who’s money is it when a home goes into default?

    This is both a legal question and an ethical issue.

    I’ve bumped into this, not in the workplace, but out looking at property :   A home that is in process of either a short sale or heading to foreclosure has tenants.  It is not that a homeowner does not have a right to rent a home or even part of their home, but when a homeowner is involved in a short sale, is in arrears (default), most lenders require substantial paperwork from the owner justifying their hardship. My guess is that the rental income could be kept under the radar.   Many homes in default are the result of job loss or other hardship due to medical reasons or other life issues.   In some cases though, defaults are a result of excessive equity withdrawal from serial refinancing.

    Homeowners in a short sale are typically not allowed any proceeds from the sale as a condition of approval.  But, if the homeowner is receiving rental income from the property, should that money be forfeited to the lender to help cure the debt?

    I have not been able to find the languange in a standard Washington State Deed of Trust form, but I thought I read somewhere that rents are collectible by the lender to help cure the debt when a default has occurred.   I could be very mistaken.