Dirty Little Secrets Behind White Picket Fences:

The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly about all things Real Estate

Can a Short Sale Save your Home from Foreclosure? The Sub-prime Mess Explained May 19, 2007

Filed under: real estate — Vanessa Sarlo @ 1:06 pm

Don’t Panic—There are ways out of this mess.Foreclosure is a scary word—it is the dreaded “F-word” of real estate; the end of the end. A foreclosure not only kicks you out of your home, but also lessens that chance you will be able to buy a new one anytime soon. A foreclosure stays on your credit report for many, many years and will effect you when opening all kinds of lines of credit.  The adjustments of many sub-prime borrower’s mortgage payments have increased the rate of foreclosure, driven neighborhood home prices down further, and effectively barred a significant chunk of Buyers out of the market for the indefinite future. But, what does all of this really mean? How does it effect the typical home buyer and seller in New Hampshire?

First, let’s go over some definitions. Many people ask me what “sub-prime” is (in English and without jargon). Simply put, it is a type of loan that is considered high-risk because the borrower could not qualify for a typical, “vanilla” loan that requires excellent credit, a full-time job for at least two consecutive years with w-2 forms and income tax returns to verify that the borrower can afford the monthly mortgage payments AND their other accumulated debt, and in most cases, a down payment of at least 5%, although there are still 100% financing options available to those that qualify. These types of loans are typically referred to as “conventional, full-documentation” loans.  A sub-prime loan is for those who can’t meet the criteria of a full-doc, conventional, “my parents would be so proud” loan.

Let’s delve a bit further. Borrowers are broken down into categories by lenders, and sub-prime borrowers have their own callsifications too. For example, I am considered an Alt-A borrower, the best kind of sub-prime borrower. I can’t qualify for a full-doc loan because I am self-employed and after deductions, I make too little on paper. So, I am somewhat on the cusp of the sub-prime lending world. I am not as high a risk to a lender as many others because I do have excellent credit, little debt, and steady employment. So, they allow me to tell them what I make each year, and they don’t verify it—they only check to make sure my employment is legit and long-term. Because I am more of a risk to them, I receive a higher interest rate than if I were able to go full-doc and they could verify my income and debt load. There are lower, riskier classifications too known as BC borrowers and, as a result, BC lenders arrived to provide these riskiest of Buyers with loan options generally at high rates with teaser introductory payments. So, in a booming real estate market with double-digit appreciation, many lenders convinced sub-prime borrowers to elect loans offering adjustable rates that were “fixed” (or, stayed at the same rate) for a certain number of years; in many cases only 2 years. Often, these were “interest-only” loans that did not effect the total loan obligation at all. If you bought a home for $200,000 and elected to go with an interest-only payment plan, your balance of $200,000 will never go down UNLESS you make an additional payment each month towards the principal (or loan amount). Borrowers felt confident that they could refinance before their rate was due to adjust to a much higher level.  Theoretically, this made sense given the market conditions at that time. But, real estate, like the stock-market, is volatile, and in 2006 we entered the begining of what appears to be a long-term housing slump, accelerated by a high rate of foreclosures which are still on the rise and expected to increase expotentially in the coming year(s). Suddenly, houses were not and are not worth what Buyers paid for them even six months ago. Rates began to adjust, and home-owners were unable to refinance because their homes were worth less than what they owed and their borrowing capabilities were at the same level or worse than when they first purchased. Subprime lenders came under attack, and many closed their doors, leaving even less options for subprime borrowers to refinance. This caused even more foreclosures to happen, further driving down prices, creating a whirpool effect.

So, what can the average person do to stop a foreclosure? First, don’t wait until you are several mortgage payments behind to get help. Mortgage companies have entire departments, known as “loss mitigation”, available to help you out of this mess.  You have to specifically ask for that department—simply speaking to a customer service representative is not going to get you very far. There are many ways to negotiate with your mortgage company: you can ask them for a lower rate, more time to catch up on payments, lower payments, etc. Be very wary of companies that offer to do this for you for a fee, or “buy your house for cash”—some of them are scams, others are not in your best interest.

If you just want to get out of the mess before you lose the house, in many cases the best way to do so is through a “short sale”. It is amazing to me that so many Sellers (and real estate agents) have never heard of this method before. The premise is simple: the bank allows you to sell you home at a loss (for less than what you owe) and they either 1) provide you with a no-interet note on the difference between the sale price and what you owe,  or 2) 1099 you for the difference. In other words, they will report the difference to the IRS as income you made, and you will pay taxes on that difference. The benefit to the home-seller is that he or she is actually able to sell their home in today’s market and avoid the stain of foreclosure on their credit report for many years to come. Best of all, this method STOPS the foreclousure process in most cases. The catch? You have to show “proof of hardship” to the bank/mortgage holder. In most cases, this is also easy to do. Illness, loss of job, divorce, etc are all qualifying factors. Simply stating that you can no longer afford to make your mortgage payments and will lose your home may be enough. It varies by lender, but it costs you nothing to try.

At Assist2Sell Buyers & Sellers Realty, we have handled many “short sale” transactions and have helped numerous homeowners avoid foreclosure. We can walk you through the process and answer any questions you may have, as well as communicate directly with your lender of your behalf and handle the entire process from start to finish. Give us a call (603-883-0004 ext 26) or send us an email. We can also direct you to honest, quality lenders that may be able to help you refinance into a fixed rate if selling is not an option at the time.

 

The Red(fin) Scare May 18, 2007

If anyone was fortunate enough to catch the 60 Minutes piece on 6% commissions in the real estate market on Mother’s Day Sunday, you may be aware of the upheaval the piece has caused amongst the real estate industry. (If not, I am sure it is available on YouTube and through CBS ). Although I applaud 60 Minutes for having the courage to expose the American public to what is ultimately harmful and unfriendly consumer practices by traditional agents/Realtors, as well as the NAR in many cases, it only managed to reveal a small piece of the puzzle.

Redfin, a newer discount real estate company offering limited-service options, low fees, and rebates on commissions for both Buyers and Sellers, has caused traditional agents to yet again reiterate their old sayings and yet again to justify their high commissions (remember, here is where the disclaimer must go that all commissions are negotiable by law, or ELSE ). Meanwhile, Redfin is riding a tidal wave of success and exposure.

Yet, the model is not that new. Sure, there are some new tactics, but companies like Assist2Sell have been quietly offering lower commission fees than the national average (5.1% according to NAR on their website) for decades. And, the icing on the cake is that we are FULL-SERVICE, whereas many discount companies—especially those that are internet based only— are not. That is not to say they are not a viable business model, they just do not provide the traditional service many consumers expect to receive. Assist2Sell does, and charges about half the “going rate” (see above) to do so.

60 Minutes Logo

So, it would seem like a no-brainer to list with a company like us. I am not tooting my own horn here—it simply makes no cents to list with anyone else who charges more, or a discount company that charges the same, but offers less value and service. I honestly feel that we are the best value PERIOD; I would say the same if I didn’t work here. Plus, we have agents who are very, very good in our office. Think about it, our concept is simple: lower fees=more listings=more buyers=more volume. The average agent in NH may close 3-10 homes/year and make a very good living doing so. The Owner/Broker of Assist2Sell, Vivian Sarlo, closed over 100 properties in both 2002 and 2005. She was ranked number one in the area for closed sales during those years(excluding new construction) as well. The other listing agents in the office, myself included, typically sell 30-45 homes a year, allowing our rankings to be in the top 5% of closed sales within the area. In short, we know what we are doing and we do it very well (as the numbers show). Plus, we have never had a single complaint in over 13 years with the Better Business Bureau. So, we do things right. How many other brokerages can boast a no-complaint record? My guess is not many.

So then, if we are so great, why doesn’t everyone list with us? I ask myself that question every day. One explanation may be that some may not know of us. It is true that we don’t have the brand name recognition that other big-name traditional companies do. We saved sellers over $1 Billion dollars in commission fees nationwide though, so we have less money to toot our own home on national television, etc. We spend our money advertising our homes for sale, not ourselves. Another reason may be the bad-mouthing we receive by traditional agents on a daily basis. They are scared–more like terrified–of us, they can’t compete with us, and so they lie–blatantly–to our clients, customers, and the public in general. Funny how we have had numerous calls from agents asking us to list their own homes for sale since their brokerages charge too much, or they don’t have a lot of equity in their home to pay a high commission. Yes, you read that right. We have sold other active traditional real estate agents’ properties. If that isn’t proof we are the best of the best, I don’t know what is.

The Blue Collar Agents Blog has a recent posting discussing just what kind of lies are said about discount companies throughout the country: It’s a short read, but it makes a point. Click here to read more.

I do want to point out that in this day and age, Realtors and agents do not facilitate the buying and selling of homes as much as they used to in the past. Instead, people do; consumers do. And, most of them find the home of their dreams WITHOUT any agent telling them about it. They use the internet, drive by listings, and are members of e-mail update services that tell them about every home to hit the market, regardless of the listing agency. For example, through our website you can be alerted of all new listing and price changes of all homes throughout the state without ever speaking to me via an email. It is done automatically. Then, when you want to see a home, you call the agent or your choice to schedule an appointment. The data is in real-time, too, so consumers see what I do immediately with no lags.

It is like we have always said: Regardless of whom you list you home with, if it is priced correctly and marketed effectively, it will sell—the difference is how much you will pay in commission fees. Don’t be a sucker, and don’t let high commissions take a bite out of your home’s equity.

 

Dear Spring, April 17, 2007

Filed under: New Hampshire,NH,Uncategorized — Vanessa Sarlo @ 9:47 pm

If you don’t mind, I’d like to see you soon. You see, Winter and I haven’t been getting along too well lately. I threw him out of the house more than once, but he keeps finding a way back in. I keep reminding myself to change the locks. Just when I think he is gone for good—BAM—he shows back up with a vengeance. This past year, I thought maybe he had learned to control his temper, but recently, he seems to be making up for lost time and is back to his old habits. Frankly, he makes me sick —(I have pneumonia and he is partly to blame, no matter what the doctors say)—and I’m more than annoyed with his overbearing ways. Most of all, I am tired of getting the cold shoulder when I try to confront him. He is bossy, pushy, inconvenient, and always making me late for appointments. Worst of all, my family and friends hate him too.

My love affair with Spring

Spring, I know you and I will always be just a fling. I’m O.K. with that. After all, beggars can’t be choosers. In truth, I

am more partial to your hot brother, Summer, but I was hoping you’d come visit soon and cheer me up, even if it is only for a few months of the year. You see, the only thing that kept me going this year was the thought of you and I

reuniting once again. I imagined the two of us alone together: your scent intoxicating, your warmth enveloping, and your zest for life invigorating my body, mind, and soul. Please hurry—I can’t wait much longer!

I love you,

Vanessa

P.S. I know you usually like to bring your cousin Rain to tag along, but I was hoping for some alone time with you first. (What can I say? I’m high maintenance)

I apologize for those of you expecting the above to be at all related to real estate. Sometimes, a gal just needs to get a few things off her chest before getting down to business. Happy Spring.

 

NH Voted Most Livable State April 16, 2007

Filed under: Most-livable-state,New Hampshire — Vanessa Sarlo @ 6:04 pm

Good ol’ New Hampshire. Despite its unpredictable climate and long winters, high property taxes, expensive housing market, and proximity to Maine (just kidding) it was recently named the “most livable state” by Morgan Quinto Press. I personally have been a lifelong resident, having lived in Nashua, Amherst, Milford, and now Manchester for over twenty-five years. Do I think it is the most livable state? Maybe–but having never actually lived in another state, I don’t think I am in any position to make that kind of decision.

To read more about just how great the Granite State is and how the prestigious title came about, visit the EagleTribune.

Or, even better, share your own opinions as to why NH is or isn’t the most livable state in America.

Downtown Nashua, NH

Downtown Nashua, NH

 

Are Traditional Real Estate Companies the “Dinosaurs” of the Real Estate Industry? The Dawning of a New Type of Ice Age

DON’T LET HIGH COMMISSIONS TAKE A BITE OUT OF YOUR HOME’S EQUITY

With the Internet finally invading and ultimately controlling the real estate market, how will traditional real estate agents continue to justify their 6%* commissions to Sellers?

As a real estate agent, I can honestly say that buyers do not need me to find out detailed information about a property for sale. Even if I am the listing agent, they can log onto their favorite website and find the property they are interested in, learn the details about the home, view 10+ photos of the interior and exterior, see virtual tours, examine the location by using Google Maps, and evidently, decide whether to see the home or not without ever picking up the phone to ask me a single question.

They do have to call me (or another agent) to actually see the home’s interior, but my importance to them is more like a gate-keeper or key-holder than a facilitator of information.

And yes, I do the administrative work of listing the home and providing the pictures and information on various web sites and in the local multiple listing service, but does that justify a 6%* commission fee? Absolutely not.

Enter the discount real estate company: all the benefits for often less than half the traditional cost.

I am biased, though. I work for a discount real estate company that charges sellers reduced commission and flat fee commissions. Other than the charge for my service, I do not perform any less for them than another “traditional” agent would. There is essentially no difference between me and “them” except for what I charge. Our motto is “Full Service with Savings”. There are other discount real estate business models that charge even less than we do, but in general, do not provide the traditional full service Sellers are accustomed to receiving from big-name dinosaur real estate companies. They are valid and do work, especially for experienced sellers, and provide yet another successful, alternative business model to the traditional game-plan.

Some agents may argue that I am selling my value as an agent short. After all, good real estate agents hold their Sellers’ hands throughout the transactions, making sure their home is priced properly, advertised profusely, and most importantly, help them to avoid legal pitfalls. When working with Buyers, I am helping them navigate through the often confusing escrow period that follows a signed agreement to buy a property: home inspections, appraisals, financing, title issues…the list goes on and on. I am also supposed to be working to make sure sellers get the most money for their home and that buyers pay the least amount of money possible for their home, depending where my fiduciary duty lies. And although I personally do this, many unethical agents care only about their commission and will guide buyers and sellers in the wrong direction all in the effort to make a buck. In truth, every agent sells a home to make money—they may enjoy helping others purchase and sell homes and may truly uphold the Code of Ethics Realtors “MUST” adhere to, but in the end, they and I wouldn’t work for free

I have always wondered who set the magical “6%*” commission rate? Who actually came up with a price for the services we as agents perform and then made it stick for so many years? After all, commissions are negotiable by law, and it is illegal for a group of real estate companies to come together and say they will all charge a certain price for their services, so where did the 6% mentality originally derive? Ten years ago, when homes were priced hundreds of thousands of dollars less than they are now, a 6% commission was significantly less than it is today. For example, in 1997, a home that today would sell for $275,000 was listed for $75,000. The commission in 1997 would be only $4500. Today, the commission to sell the same home would be $16,500. Add to that the fact that it is now in many ways EASIER to sell homes than before, and you have to wonder why the 6%* mentality still exists.

Agents may claim to “hate” discount agents, threaten not to show their homes listed (thereby violating their fiduciary duty to their buyer-clients and breaking the code of ethics and a variety of other licensing laws), and insist they are worth their weight in gold, but chances are, they’ve discounted in the past too. Ever listed your house with an agent who said his fee was 6% only to mention that another agent was willing to do it for less? What happens? Usually, the set-in-stone six-percenter* agrees to lower his fee in order to obtain the listing. All agents discount—they just do it under the table, so to speak. If the discount model of doing business didn’t work, why would other traditional agents reduce their fees to compete instead of just waiting for the listing to not sell and the seller to “see the light”? And, why does my company have a 99% listed to sold ratio?

I truly feel I do more for my clients than many traditional agents do. I know this because the majority of my business comes from referrals. I also feel I would have a very successful career in a “6%” real estate office, but I would be delivering the exact same services I already do now. I honestly could not justify the extra cost to myself, never mind a potential client. It is kind of like a moral dilemma for me.

Luckily, I jumped aboard the discount ship many years ago. Sooner, rather than later, traditional agents will have to recognize that with virtual freedom of information, 78% of Buyers using the Internet to find homes, and the gate-keeper ideology becoming a thing of the past, it is just a matter of time before we all must adopt more of a consultative approach to real estate and the services we provide. Or prepare for extinction.

Disclaimer: All commissions are negotiable by law. 6% commission used for comparison purposes only. Savings are compared to paying 4, 5, or 6% commissions.

 

Greetings from the Land of Discounters March 24, 2007

Hello Everyone!

First and foremost, thank you for taking the time to view this site. With so many blogs and opinions flying around in cyberspace today, I hope you will find this particular one to be informative, cutting-edge, controversial, and most importantly, fun.

I decided to write this blog after spending some time at others professionals’ real estate blogs such as bluecollaragents.com and blueroof.com. Each person has their own interpretation and opinions as to where the real estate industry and market is heading over the next few months, years, and decades. I am one of those people, but with a minor catch: I am a discount real estate agent with very different ideas and opinions than the majority of “traditional” real estate agents, or, as I like to call them, the dinosaurs of our industry. Yep, folks, that’s right, I sell property for a flat fee and discounted MLS fee while still providing full service.

Many people have asked how I do it? How can I provide the same service that other agents charge up to tens of thousands of dollars MORE for? I hope to answer these and many more questions and have conversations over the coming months utilizing this blog.

Now, the disclaimer that all commissions are negotiable by law needs to be placed here, but most people are aware that traditional agents are also known as the six-percenters. Companies like Assist2Sell (where I work) are providing consumers with the full service of a real estate professional working to sell your home at a significantly discounted commission than the industry norm.

The term discount used to be considered a “dirty” word. Now, with the coming of Wal-Mart, Costco, Sam’s Club, BJs, Hyundai, eBay, SmartBargains.com, and others, it is looked upon in a new light by consumers and industry vets. Suddenly, it’s hip to be price-savvy.  Today more than ever before the real estate market is experiencing a definite uprooting from its traditional past. Why? The answer is simple: home prices have skyrocketed and we are no longer gatekeepers of information. With the advent of the Internet, and sites such as www.realtor.com, www.nneren.com, www.zillow.com, and many, many others, buyers can find almost any kind of imaginable information about a property for sale. Real estate agents supply that information, but they no longer keep it under lock and key as they did in the past.

My goal with this blog is to expose the secrets of the real estate industry, show consumers that there IS a better way to buy and sell property, and engage in conversations with buyers, sellers, and other real estate professionals so that we can all come to a better understanding of today’s changing market and industry.

I look forward to you continued support and guidance on this project, and hope you will be receptive to new ideas, even if you do not necessarily agree. Together, with your participation, we can take the real estate industry out of its stagnant black hole and into a new better and brighter light.