When Buyers Change Their Minds

The Wall Street Journal quoted me in When Home Buyers Change Their Minds (behind paywall). It opens,

The offer was accepted. The mortgage was approved. What happens when the buyer gets cold feet and wants to back out of the deal?

Jason Michael faced this issue about 18 months ago when he listed his three-bedroom home in St. Louis. Mr. Michael, a 36-year-old public-relations executive, asked $130,000 for his home and accepted an offer for $127,000. The buyers posted a $1,000 deposit of “earnest money,” completed inspections, negotiated repairs and were approved for a mortgage.

Then they told Mr. Michael that they had found another house and didn’t want to move ahead with the purchase.

While the contract allowed Mr. Michael to pocket the deposit if the buyers defaulted, they refused to authorize their agent to release it. Only after Mr. Michael threatened to sue did they surrender the $1,000.

“My agent had said that people don’t back out of house purchases—that this won’t happen,” Mr. Michael says. “But now I approach it as if the buyer can back out until the very last minute.” He ultimately decided to rent out the house.

According to an online survey of 2,241 adults conducted for finance website Nerdwallet.com in January, home-buyer’s remorse isn’t uncommon. Nearly half (49%) of homeowners who responded said they would do something differently if they had to go through the process again. Broken down by age group, 61% of Generation Xers (the mid-1960s through the 1970s) and 57% of millennial homeowners (born in the early 1980s through about 2004) indicated they had regrets. Many wished they had bought a bigger home or saved more money before buying.

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Here are a few things to consider if you might want to back out of your real-estate contract. Buyers and sellers should consult a qualified real-estate attorney for advice.

• Craft carefully. Rather than having a mortgage contingency allowing you to obtain a mortgage “at prevailing rates,” specify that the mortgage rate can be no more than 4%, for example. Or, consider making the contract contingent on the mortgage actually being funded by the lender. “This extends the contingency all the way to the closing,” says David Reiss, a Brooklyn Law School professor who specializes in real estate.

• Sharpen your negotiation skills. Even if you can’t back out legally, try to negotiate a reduction or return of the deposit with the seller. In a market where prices are rising and the homeowner can get a higher price for their home, there might be a chance to come to terms.

• Remember the broker. Even if the seller lets the buyer off the hook, he may still be liable to the broker for the commission. Contracts state that the commission is due when the broker finds a ready, willing and able buyer. Many brokers will work with the seller in this situation, Mr. Haber says, but it is an issue that needs to be addressed.

 

Negotiating Real Estate Fees

office-negotiationPolicyGenius quoted me in 5 Mortgage Loan Fees and Rates You Should Always Negotiate. It opens,

When it comes to making major purchases or financial decisions, we always hear that mantra, “Everything is negotiable.” You can haggle with the salesman when shopping for a new car, or with the hiring manager at a new job over your starting salary. It’s even possible to negotiate your tuition rates as a college student.

But a lot of the costs associated with buying a house can be difficult to negotiate down, according to mortgage advisor and author Casey Fleming.

“Appraisal, underwriter and processor are chosen by the lender, and the variation in fees is quite small,” he says. “Escrow and title services are typically chosen by the real estate agent of the seller in most areas, so the buyer has little say in what those fees will be.”

There’s also not much way around paying private mortgage insurance — you’ll need no less than a 20% down payment to avoid it.

But, you don’t need to let the non-negotiable items prevent you from bargaining for a better deal on other house-hunting costs. Here are a few fees and costs worth negotiating:

Real estate broker’s fees and commissions

From the outset, consider negotiating your real estate broker’s fees, according to Prof. David Reiss of the Brooklyn Law School, who teaches real estate finance and community development. “If 6% is standard in your community, you can look for brokers who will sell your home for 5% or less,” he says. “Be careful how low to go though, because you want your broker to be motivated enough to sell your property.”

Reiss notes that to gain the most advantage in negotiating their fees, your broker’s listing agreement should outline all the services they’ll provide you regarding advertisements, showing, and the plan in place to buy or sell the property in question.

Best Time to Sign a Lease

photo by Beth Kanter

The Allstate Blog quoted me in What’s the Best Time of Year to Sign a Lease? It opens,

There is no way around it — apartment hunting can be stressful. And the cost of rent can be quite expensive — even outpacing average U.S. salary increases. According to the National Association of Realtors, the cost of rent rose an average of 15 percent while renters’ income only rose 11 percent from 2009 to 2014. However with some planning and negotiating, you may be able to have some more money in your pocket at the end of each month.

Similar to how you can pay more for a winter jacket in October than May, rental rates often vary throughout the year. By planning your move and signing lease terms to help position your next move during the lower rental rate season, you may end up saving some money. 

Research the Demand in Your Area

Just like most things, supply and demand determines prices in the rental market. Not surprisingly, you may get a better deal on renting when demand for condos or apartments are at their lowest. However, if you live in a tight rental market, your choices could be very limited. “In most areas the slow rental season is typically late fall through winter since less people move during this time,” says Scot J. Haislip, vice president, national lease program at the National Apartment Association (NAA).

It is important to understand the rental market you’re looking to move into since rental patterns can vary based on where you live. David Reiss, director of Community Development Clinic in New York City and professor at Brooklyn Law School, specializing in real estate and community development recommends contacting several local brokers to get their perspective on the slower rental periods in your area of interest. He also cautions that some high demand areas, such as New York City or Chicago, currently do not have a slower period for rentals.

Smart Negotiation

Even during the winter months, most landlords are not going to simply hand over a discount — you have to work for it by negotiating with your prospective landlord. Before you broach the subject of price, do your homework by picking up the phone or researching online to compare similar units at the current time. Reiss suggests that you consider asking for a decrease in your monthly rent or a period of free rent.

Best Real Estate Investing Advice Ever

I was interviewed on the Best Real Estate Investing Advice Ever with Joe Fairless podcast. The interview, How to Negotiate the Interest Rate on Your Mortgage Down…A LOT, went live today. The teaser for the show reads,

Today’s Best Ever guest shares just how important it is to do you due diligence with everything. From negotiating the interest rate on your mortgage rate down to an unheard of number, to learning about different zoning codes and what they mean to you.

The interview runs about half an hour. I always like to be invited to speak on a long-form program because I can go into greater depth about things that I think are important. I also got a chance to discuss some topics that usually only come up in my Real Estate Practice class.

The Best Ever Real Estate Investing Advice Ever show is one of the highest rated investing podcasts on iTunes, up there with Suze Orman, Jim Cramer, Marketplace, Motley Fool, NPR and the Wall Street Journal. The show is sold with some hype, but it was a substantive discussion, geared to the newish real estate investor. All in all, this was a fun interview to do.

 

 

Unfair Loan Mod Negotiations

The Ninth Circuit issued an Opinion in Compton v. Countrywide Financial Corp. et al., (11-cv-00198 Aug. 4, 2014).  The District Court had dismissed Compton’s unfair or deceptive act or practice [UDAP] claim because she had failed to allege that the lender had “exceeded its role as a lender and owed an independent duty of care to” the borrower. (14) The Court of Appeals concluded, however, that the homeowner/plaintiff had

sufficiently alleged that BAC engaged in an “unfair or deceptive act or practice” for the purpose of withstanding a motion to dismiss. As previously noted, Compton does not base her UDAP claim on allegations that BAC failed to determine whether she would be financially capable of repaying the loan. Rather, the gist of Compton’s complaint is that BAC misled her into believing that BAC would modify her loan and would not commence foreclosure proceedings while her loan modification request remained under review. As a result of these misrepresentations, Compton engaged in prolonged negotiations, incurred transaction costs in providing and notarizing documents, and endured lengthy delays. The complaint’s description of BAC’s misleading behave or sufficiently alleges a “representation, omission, or practice” that is likely to deceive a reasonable consumer.(15)

This seems to be an important clarification about what a reasonable consumer, or at least a reasonable consumer in Hawaii, should be able to expect from a lender with which she does business.

While the Court reviews a fair amount of precedent that stands for the proposition that a lender does not owe much of a duty to a borrower, Compton seems to stand for the proposition that lenders must act consistently, at least in broad outline, with how we generally expect parties to behave in consumer transactions: telling the truth, negotiating in good faith, minimizing unnecessary transaction costs; and minimizing unnecessary delays.

In reviewing many cases with allegations such as these, it seems to me that judges are genuinely shocked by lender behavior in loan modification negotiations. It remains to be seen whether such cases will change UDAP jurisprudence in any significant way once we have worked through all of the foreclosure crisis cases.