Tag Archives: appraisers

Debunking the “instant equity” myth

Q: If I buy a home that previously sold for more than $400,000, but I pay only around $200,000, doesn’t that mean I have instant equity?

A: In a word? No.

Here’s the deal. In real estate, we think of equity as the difference between what your home is worth and what you owe on it. It’s the amount of your home’s value that you actually own, after any mortgage or other debts that are secured by the property.

Historically, the way homeowners hoped to build equity in their homes was primarily by paying off their mortgages. However, over the last decade or so, this evolved so that many homeowners expected their primary means of building equity would be by the stratospheric appreciation in home values. If homes simply kept growing in value, then equity would continue to build, as a matter of course.

Given these definitions, technically, the phrase “instant equity” should refer to the difference between what your home is worth at the time of closing and your mortgage balances — i.e., what you owe on it. For most buyers, that would mean their instant equity was the amount they had put down on the home.

However, people typically use the phrase “instant equity” to mean that you’ve bought a home that is worth more than you paid for it (not what you owe on it). It is this use of the phrase that you’re likely getting at.

The fact that the home sold for more than $400,000 at some time in the past (a time near the top of the market six years or so ago, most likely) is entirely irrelevant to your equity position on it now. You might indeed be closing this transaction with instant equity, but if so, that would be because the property is currently worth more than the $200,000 purchase price, not because of what it was worth in a time that is long gone — a mystical fairyland in which banks lent mortgage money without checking on borrowers’ ability to repay it, which ultimately led to a dramatic climb in home prices.

Some would say that whether or not you have instant equity, the fact that the property once sold for $400,000 shows that (a) a buyer was once willing to pay that, and (b) that the property could climb to that price again. These facts are both true, strictly speaking, but do not in any way help you determine whether this particular property is the windfall opportunity that you seem to think it might be.

Here’s why: A home’s value at any given time is what a willing and qualified buyer would be willing and able to pay for it at that time. Today’s market dynamics are simply not comparable to those of yesteryear, so you cannot assume that a buyer on today’s market would pay a top-of-market price for the place.

A buyer could not and would not pay $400,000 on today’s market for that home; if he needed a mortgage to fund the purchase, the bank and appraiser would simply not allow him to do so. And if he were a cash buyer, it just wouldn’t make sense for him to pay such a price, presuming that he could buy another, similar home in the area for closer to $200,000 than $400,000.

The only way for you to know whether you have instant equity in this home, and how much, is to figure out what you believe the property is worth on today’s market, and calculate the difference between whichever of the following you find to be the most relevant for your purposes: (a) the amount of loan indebtedness you have on the property or (b) the amount you paid for the property.

Tara-Nicholle Nelson is an author and the Consumer Ambassador and Educator for real estate listings search site Trulia.com.

How to bargain shop for mortgages

Shoppers, I bet many of you scoured the Sunday ads and bounced to several stores for deals over Thanksgiving weekend.

What if you applied that same effort and vigilance to shopping for a new home loan or refinance? That same attention to detail could translate into hundreds to thousands of dollars in savings over time.

“People think nothing about going to many different stores to buy a toaster or oven or dishwasher,” said Norma Garcia, attorney at Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine. “They just don’t shop for (home) loans the same way they shop for other products, but they ought to.”

Consumers likely are more comfortable comparison-shopping for microwaves than mortgages because the home-loan process can be cumbersome, with reams of paperwork, unfamiliar jargon, and of course, the rush to close and move to a new place.

The U.S. government is working to make the process easier. Since May, officials have been trying to simplify and combine two required forms that show would-be borrowers their final loan terms and costs before closing. The “Know Before You Owe” campaign, spurred by sweeping financial reforms in 2010, has produced two drafts of the merged documents that are still in testing phase…

FORMS TO KNOW

This gives you an approximation of what you may owe at closing. It lists the basics including loan amount, interest rate and potential penalty costs. The form also shows you different loan scenarios to illustrate whether it would make sense, for instance, to buy points upfront to reduce your interest rate. (One point typically equals 1 percent of the loan’s value, or $1,000 for each $100,000 borrowed.) Click here to see the whole form

 

FORMS TO KNOW

You get this at the closing table. The form lists every single expense and credit involved in the transaction. Click here to see the whole form

 

You also get this at closing. The document breaks down how much you will owe in a different way. Perhaps the most important detail is the annual percentage rate, which rolls in all of your costs and is defined by HUD as the “true cost” of a loan. Click here to see the whole form

TO-DO LIST BEFORE CLOSING

• If there’s a line item you don’t understand in any of the forms, ask about it.

• Scan for hidden costs. Third parties get proceeds from loans in the form of fees and commissions, said Norma Garcia, attorney at Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine.

• Know who’s going to service your loan. The holder of your loan can sell the loan to anyone, but they have to disclose the percentage of loans that are sold. “If you choose to go with that lender, just know that may not be the person you’re dealing with down the line,” Garcia said.

• If you sense your lender isn’t being upfront or answering your questions, find someone else. It may take interviewing two to three people to find the right lender.

• Get a second opinion on your loan documents from HUD-approved counselors at little or no charge. But be sure to do this before closing. For San Diego, you can call the Housing Opportunities Collaborative at (619) 283-2200 or (800) 462-0503. Someone will direct you to the right agency.

• Don’t sign anything unless you understand it.

Read the whole article by SignOnSanDiego.com here: “How to Bargain Shop for Mortgages“.