August 15th, 2007 11:42 AM by Ron Mastrodonato
Good old FHA loans make a comebackWASHINGTON – Aug. 14, 2007 – The collapse of the subprime mortgage business has revived interest in federally backed Federal Housing Administration loans among low-income and first-time home buyers who have been shut out of the mortgage market.After a three-year slump, applications for FHA loans jumped from 41,530 in December 2006 to 73,444 in June – a 76.8 percent increase. And the upsurge in FHA loans occurred at a time when the overall housing market was slowing.When the FHA was created in 1934, it provided the only way many low- and middle-income families could afford a home. Over the years, it changed little.But in recent years, private lenders launched innovative mortgage products targeted at first-time home buyers and borrowers with impaired credit. In addition, private lenders can approve applications more quickly than the FHA.Despite the rebound, FHA is flawed and in need of some major improvements, industry experts say. “FHA is definitely a step behind where the private markets have gone,” says Keith Gumbinger, vice president of HSH Associates, which publishes loan information.A number of factors have held back FHA loans:• Low limits. The maximum loan amount allowed by FHA hasn’t kept up with rising home prices in high-cost areas. The current FHA maximum for a single-family home is $362,790.As a result, there are more FHA loans in Michigan than in California. In the first quarter, the median home price in San Francisco was $748,100, compared with $154,600 in Detroit, according to the National Association of Realtors.• Downpayment. FHA requires a 3 percent loan down payment. Until the subprime market collapsed, many private lenders offered zero-down-payment mortgages, even to first-time home buyers. Even now, some home buyers can get zero-down-payment loans, but they usually need stellar credit.• Cumbersome paperwork. When a mortgage broker deals with an FHA loan, the process “has to go through two extra hoops and another pile of paperwork,” Gumbinger says. Many private lenders use automated underwriting systems, a tool that FHA is now considering.• Costly audits. To originate FHA loans, lenders must complete an audit requirement, which typically costs $6,000 to $8,000 a year. “It’s the main barrier for entry to FHA, especially for small businesses,” says George Hanzimanolis, president of the National Association of Mortgage Brokers.While soaring defaults in subprime mortgages have led to an increase in FHA applications, approvals are climbing at a slower pace. It generally takes 90 to 120 days for an FHA loan approval, so some applications are still in the pipeline.“Given how many borrowers really could benefit from FHA financing but how few of them do, I would say we are still very much in the doldrums,” says Meg Burns, FHA’s director of the Office of Single Family Program Development.Bills to modernize the FHA have been introduced in the House and Senate, but they face opposition from some Republican lawmakers, who say the changes could hurt private lenders
Foreclosures: for novices, it’s a crapshootNORTH PALM BEACH, Fla. – Aug. 14, 2007 – The allure of foreclosed properties to a would-be real estate investor is nearly irresistible: Buy valuable properties for pennies on the dollar with little or no risk of your own money, work when you feel like it, and grow rich.Countless seminars and how-to books promise to turn even the most novice buyer into a high-powered real estate investor through the magic of foreclosed homes. The trouble is that the dream of instant, safe, trouble-free wealth often turns out to be like most things that sound too good to be true – a scam. If easy money was to be made, everyone would be getting rich off of foreclosures.True, some people do, just like some people get rich in the stock and commodities markets, oil wells and foreign currencies. But, just like these other forms of investing, profitably buying and selling real estate takes research, knowledge, experience, money and time. And nearly every deal with a huge profit potential also comes with an appropriately sized risk.Beyond get-rich-quick seminars and informational classes offered by nonprofit agencies and local sheriff’s offices, few, if any professionals are available or willing to teach novice investors the ins and outs of foreclosure sales. Why should they show you how to buy a great property at a deep discount instead of doing the deal themselves?Still, if you are willing to go it alone and invest the time and cash required to deal in foreclosures, your first step should be to understand the process as thoroughly as possible.The basicsForeclosure is the legal method by which lenders or governmental agencies take properties from owners who fail to make payments, and then resell those homes to recoup money owed them.Nonpayment of a mortgage or home equity loan is the most common reason a home gets foreclosed, but it is far from the only reason. But people could also be facing a foreclosure because of a balloon payment, not paying property taxes, not carrying enough insurance, or even failing to keep the property in good working condition, says Rande Johnsen, a trustee for Trustee Corps in Irvine, Calif.There are three distinct phases of foreclosures, each with its own advantages and each fraught with peril: Preforeclosure: The time between when the homeowner has stopped making payments and when the land is actually put up for sale at auction. Investors take this opportunity to deal directly with the homeowner. Auction: When the courts seize the property from the homeowner and sell it to the highest bidder. The county sheriff or a trustee handles this process, depending on the state. REO: If the property fails to sell at auction, or if the lender ends up as the highest bidder, the home becomes REO, or “real estate owned” by the bank. Banks then try to sell these REO properties on the open market, often through a real estate agent or third-party marketing company.Often these homes are sold to buyers who don’t even know they are buying a foreclosure, and go through the entire process as they would with any other home.Going once . . .The typical foreclosure is literally bought on the county courthouse steps during a sheriff’s auction or a trustee’s sale. These auctions are typically held on a weekday morning, and bidders must come to the sale armed with information and flush with cash or its equivalent. Plastic, personal checks and IOUs are almost universally shunned at auction and, depending on where you live, investors usually must make a sizable deposit or pay the entire sum on the spot, says John T. Reed, editor of Real Estate Investor’s Monthly newsletter and author of the book “How to Buy Real Estate For At Least 20 percent Below Market Value.”Details vary widely by state, but as a rule, prospective buyers are not allowed inside the house before bidding begins. This is a frightening concept for many buyers, who must lay down thousands of dollars in cash up front without knowing anything about the home beyond what is available through basic public records searches and a curbside appraisal.The house could be infested with termites, gutted to the rafters by previous residents or filled with lead paint or asbestos, and a buyer wouldn’t know until after the sale is final.This as-is aspect of auctions is only part of what can make foreclosures so perilous for beginning buyers. Another is that these homes can never be guaranteed to come with a clear title.“You can never be absolutely sure you are going to be buying a house with a clean title in any sale, but foreclosures are particularly problematic,” says John Mixon, law alumni professor at University of Houston Law Center.During a typical foreclosure auction, the homes that will be sold are listed in the legal advertising section of the county’s newspaper of record at least a week before the sale. And while you may have a week to research the records and history for each house scheduled for auction, many homeowners settle their dispute with the bank at the 11th hour, halting the sale. This means any time, effort or expense you invested to research the home is lost. Given these constraints, obtaining title insurance is out of the question.But choosing to forgo title research could end up being infinitely more costly. “There are so many regulations, so many procedures that if you leave out a step, a previous owner may come out of the woodworks and show this to the court and you lose everything you put into the deal,” Reed says.Even if a title blunder doesn’t invalidate the sale, overlooking a lien that wasn’t wiped out by the foreclosure, such as an IRS debt you now have to pay, could wipe out any profit you hoped to earn. Procedural errors and court rulings could also halt a foreclosure sale. What’s more, some state laws include a statutory redemption period, allowing the original homeowner to repay the past-due amount on their loan, regain ownership and leave the investor holding the bag.Not all hopelessBut all that doesn’t mean every auction deal is hopelessly risky.“Very few institutional foreclosures are defectively handled,” Mixon says, so the best bet is to stick to homes that were foreclosed by reputable lenders, but only if they were the first lien holder, usually through a first mortgage. If the deal was done properly on the front end, complete with title insurance, there’s less likelihood that a skeleton is lurking, and about a 90-percent chance of getting a good title. “If you are buying a foreclosure brought by a small or shady lender or by a family member who lent the money, you may be looking at odds that are no better than you would get at the roulette table,” Mixon says.Government auctionsAnother variation on the auction is buying properties foreclosed by a government agency, such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development or the Veterans Administration.These auctions are typically conducted online through a marketing company. Buyers are allowed to tour the homes in advance, conduct inspections and can often get title insurance.While these auctions are appealing, the availability of homes is limited and the small stock is often bid on by several buyers, making it a very competitive market with prices discounted only slightly, if at all, off current market value.Tabletop negotiationsOne purchase method advocated by numerous seminars and real estate gurus is to find property owners delinquent in their payments through legal ads or online services that search public records and courthouse documents. You could then approach the owner directly to negotiate a private deal.Advocates of this method call it “buying equity.” Essentially, investors pay the owner a fee and then take over the existing debt and the home. This keeps protects the homeowner’s credit report from the black mark of foreclosure.Buying equity this way is difficult if a seller’s market exists because the owner could just as easily sell the home and usually pocket a greater amount in appreciation than an investor would be willing to pay.“Some people call this stealing property,” Reed says. “It is a situation fraught with ethical problems.”But similar to auction situations, the slightest slip-up could blow the deal, leaving the homeowner in the house and the investor out significant amounts of money. Also, all of the title problems inherent in an auction also apply in preforeclosure sales, except that without the legal proceedings of a foreclosure, all subordinate liens, such as home equity loans and construction liens, remain in place.Sale mentalityDespite all the potential pitfalls, interest in foreclosures runs high. Part of the attraction comes from the same motivation that makes bargain shopping trendy, says C.J. Gehlke, editorial director of “The Resource,” a monthly newsletter published by REO Nationwide.“What you find is a frenzy similar to what you get at a department store sale,” she says. “When you buy a house at foreclosure, it has the same mystique. You can brag to people at a cocktail party about how much you saved.”Reed agrees that get-rich-quick fantasies are driving most buyers’ interest in foreclosures. “Buying foreclosures is not something a beginner should try. Many of the gurus are out there telling crowds anything they want to hear, true or not, just to sell some books.”© 2007 Bankrate.com, Bankrate Inc. All rights reserved.