The Fine Print – Part 2

With the foundation set, it’s time to bring the education players on the stage. Here’s a few lessons to share.

(These lessons apply to majority of people and homeowners in the U.S. today. If you’re lucky enough to be part of a grandfathered property and you, your ancestors and your posterity never have and never will move, pat yourself on the back and don’t bother reading the rest of this. Also, if you can buy a house outright with your own cash, you also qualify for an exemption. If you’re not part of this crowd, you probably should read this.)

Lesson #1) ‘Owning’ a home is a misnomer.
To own something signals to our minds a completeness, a finality if you will. You pay for something and then it’s yours to keep and control. To slap this description on a process that typically spans three decades is where the misnomer comes it. Until you’ve made that final payment you don’t own your home, you’re renting it. The owner is who you borrowed the money from to sign a contract allowing you to move in and become responsible for the property. Oh, and you’re also paying them for the privilege of using their money in addition to your rent. However, when it comes to maintenance and all other related costs, rest assured your ownership is immediate and complete. So what you really ‘own’ for 30 years (or until you’ve paid off your loan) is an expensive rental.

Lesson #2) The lender has one goal.
The lender’s reason for existence in this business realm is simple, they are there to make money. There are several ways for them to do this and they have several backups to protect their investment, some of which include:

  • Mortgage Insurance: This can be collected in the event you are unable/willing to make your payments.
  • Property Value: They can resell the property for it’s value price should you not fulfill your contract.
  • Government Aid: This only applies to the current housing mess, but lenders are receiving bailout money for homes in foreclosure in an effort to keep them from going bankrupt.

When you hit the grand scale of lenders that are so common in the U.S. today, there is no such thing as people and common sense. It’s all business and numbers. Programs put in place to help the people don’t work because of this truth and this single objective. Banks have every reason to foreclose on homeowners, not help them. The point of this lesson is knowing the lender is not there to help you once the contract to secure the home is signed. In fact, after that point you’re on opposing sides of the game.

Lesson #3) The home as an investment is a misnomer.
While this is the number one selling point, it is untrue for the average homeowner. The reason this sell works is because generally we are slow and lazy with no desire to do the math. By definition, an investment provides a return or pay out equal to or greater than the amount spent. Some will argue that this is where your home equity comes in as you can leverage it to borrow still more money. That’s a hollow argument to me as borrowing money isn’t the same as earning it therefore your gain isn’t on the investment or net worth side, it’s simply an expense category item used to satisfy a need or want leaving you with still more debt. The greatest irony of this is the pattern of upgrading we so readily buy into. We believe that to be happy and successful we have to keep getting more which potentially leads us to a bigger house. We fail to recognize that more equals more – more commitment, more expense, more everything. So, to qualify as an investment your home has to provide you payout for ALL the money you put into it with an additional profit above that. And here is where we fail because we don’t do the math. If you’re fortunate enough to sell a home and reap the equity, you may feel like your home was an investment. The problem is you never factor in the rest of the equation which is balancing your gain against your expenses, you simply see money that didn’t exist before. That’s a wonderful thing, also something you never consider balancing with it’s opposite which happens when a home’s value suddenly drops through the floor and you can’t sell it even if you wanted or had to. In fact, it took this experience for me to really think on balancing the equation and here’s what I discovered for myself:

$432K (30/yr, 6% on $200k -$528k if 8%)
+$60k (General guidelines say 1% of a home’s value is a good yearly estimate for routine maintenance)
+$50k (30 years of repairs and major things outside routine maintenance – I know this is low but we’re just getting a framework)
+$50k (30 years improvements – again, low but it’s just a framework)

=$592k – or an even $600k for easy math. So this is the minimum you need to receive for your home to hit the break even point – not make money. Big fail for investment math.

Now if we flip this (and I’m not a mathematician and I don’t play one on TV so this isn’t accurate, just info to get you thinking) by saving that same money you were going to spend on the home (I’m not talking the necessary payment amount here, just that excess for maintenance and such) you’d not only do a great deal to increase your net worth you’d potentially earn enough money to buy a home outright in less time than it would take you to pay for one on the “regular” plan. Especially if you invested it wisely in some compounding interest money market account. Food for thought.

Lesson #4) When things go wrong, they go terribly wrong.
The saddest lesson in home ownership has come in recent years with the mortgage industry crash. The reality is, your home isn’t worth what you paid or even what the economy says it’s worth at the time, it’s only worth what someone is willing to pay for it. And the extension of this is it’s only worth what your lender is willing to accept. To further complicate things, a big mess, like the mortgage industry created with inflated values it couldn’t support, can result in a wave of consequential changes from new programs, to new legislation. The impact is far reaching and will be felt for years to come. The things you know and understand today may not be the same tomorrow. This is also the point at which I learned how the bank is actually on an opposing side from you. See, if they chose not to accept an offer when your home is upside down, you lose and there’s nothing you can do about it. And remember all those ways listed above for a lender to make money? They all work against the buyer. The bank will make more money by refusing or messing up a short sale offer and pushing the home into foreclosure than to help the buyer resolve the debt. Oh, and conditions of need over want in regards to moving – say for a new job, they have no influence. This is all about money and you’re on the short end of the stick. The worst part of all this is learning the hard way about the instability of what you thought was sound. It’s a rude wake up call to realize that circumstances completely beyond your control can change everything and leave you helpless. In fact, it’s a rotten feeling indeed.

Yes, it’s been a wicked learning curve. While we’ve successfully navigated away from the drowning Titanic, we’re still watching helplessly on the sidelines and feeling the waves of the aftermath. But we’re fortunate, we’re fine. Our credit will be marred by circumstances beyond our control, but we don’t need it to live and enjoy life as we’ve known it. We’ve been blessed to have a great job with a terrific raise, a comfortable and nice home we’re renting, money to meet our needs/wants and the knowledge that we did everything we could regarding our home in Arizona. Most people who have lost or are losing their homes today aren’t anywhere near as fortunate. I feel for them. We’re all wiser for our experience, but it doesn’t ease the pains of weathering the storm.

There seems to be more broken about our system than works. Did you know you can’t start a short sale process until you are behind on your payments? For us that meant we had to deliberately not make a couple months of payments to qualify for the only way we could sell our home. Some suggested renting in hopes the value would increase to the point we could sell it. Unfortunately we could never rent it for anywhere near the monthly mortgage payment and a partial payment is looked on the same way as no payment. Further, the recovery time looks to be about 12 years. Two mortgage payments are out of the question, especially when one was already our limit and we moved to one of the most expensive areas in the country. So with no option, we hired a real estate agent to list the home, agreed to maintain our utilities to the property and skipped a couple months of payments. We were encouraged when the bank approved our status for the government short sale program and although that was a bugger of paperwork and red tape, the offer was submitted to the bank. All was looking great until the bank decided they wanted more money and countered asking both seller and buyer for more. That did two things, first it caused the buyer to withdraw their offer and second the added paperwork and process delayed the process. To our disappointment, the next thing we learned was that our approval had been disapproved because of timelines not met – not met because the bank delayed the process. The ray of light was that we had a second offer ready to submit and while it would be a pain to restart the application and approval process for the short sale program it could be done. Well, it was supposed to be an option until we received foreclosure notices in the mail yesterday. Now we’re told that because the process is too far into foreclosure short sale is no longer an option. Apparently, while the left hand of the bank was processing our short sale program, its right was simultaneously pursuing foreclosure procedures. I am so saddened for our good neighbors too. Our home had the potential to be inhabited with new owners and continued home care. Now I fear it will fall into a state of ugly abandonment and for absolutely no reason. While we’ve always known we’re at the complete mercy of the bank and system, it is still utterly disappointing to see it work against us.

So let’s recap. A program is devised to alleviate insurmountable challenges with relocations. Approval is granted and two offers are obtained. The first isn’t accepted and the second isn’t considered. Bank forces both credit damage and foreclosure as a result. Epic fail – definitely broken. Is there any wonder that our legal system is now littered with lawsuits over messes like this?

The fine print is something I’ll not miss again. I may never own a home again – by choice. If I do, it will be when it can truly be an investment because it’s paid for from the start. But through all this, I feel we have been truly blessed. The weight of the ball and chain are gone. The mess isn’t cleaned up yet and I have no idea how long it will take with the bank running the show, but it will eventually be cleaned up. A whole new world is open to us with these cables of home ownership keeping us anchored. Maybe we’ll end up in Spain for employment yet. Regardless of where we go in the future, the knowledge that we can, and the freedom and ability to reallocate our income to our advantage are liberating and wonderful. Life is good.

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2 comments on “The Fine Print – Part 2

  1. I’m learning too. As you mentioned, we can’t get our bank to lower our rates because we’re not behind on our payments. And I’m doing my best not to get behind on the house payments because I don’t want to gamble I will get bailed out before we lose the house. Right now, it’s struggle for us because I’m supporting a family of six on a single income. We use to be a family of two with two incomes.

    Ken, I feel your pain! It’s maddening. If the government was going to step in at all we didn’t need bank bailouts, we needed an evening of the playing field for the middle men who aren’t gaming the system; the honest ones that need the break to remain honest and able to stay afloat. I think the hardest part of our decision to move was knowing that to protect and nourish my husband’s career and ability to provide we’d have to sacrifice the house. I hate it, but like his dad said, you can fix anything that goes wrong except your career, that one you need to take care of. So we jumped. Just wish we’d not been painted into corners by the economy and banks.

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