Friday, March 13, 2009

Short Refinance

Don't Lose Your Keys. Short REFI vs Short SALE

Right now, we are witnessing first-hand the worst real estate crash in U.S. history. Someday many of us will look back at years 2007-20?? and say, "Yeah, those were the days when we owed more than our houses were worth." But in the present day, in the midst of our housing crisis, we must decide what to do about it. Bottom-line is, nobody wants to lose their home, but most would rather lose that than lose money- and keep on losing it. So do I sell short or walk away? These are two things that come to mind when homeowners think about their equity lost and cutting their losses short. Unfortunately, both of these choices involve moving out of one's home and all of the trauma that goes along with it. There's hardly a bright side to either one, but what if there were another way? Today, I want to give you an alternative option to consider, which may also be for the greater benefit of our national economy: SHORT REFINANCING.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said it best,

"With low or negative equity... a stressed borrower has less ability (because there is no home equity to tap) and less financial incentive to try to remain in the home. In this environment, principal reductions that restore some equity for the homeowner may be a relatively more effective means of avoiding delinquency and foreclosure."
In layman's terms, reduce the loan balance or else the house forecloses. The easiest way for me to explain the way a short refinance works is to draw the analogy between that and a short sale. By now we've all heard or spoke about someone short selling their property, typically because they can no longer afford the payments and cannot sell it at a high enough price to payoff their existing lender. In a short sale, the lender's potential losses- by having to foreclose on a home and incur the costs of re-selling it on the open market- are reduced by accepting a buyer's offer for less than what is owed. Obviously, no bank or investor wants to accept a payoff of less than what they originally lent out, but by not accepting such an offer they run the proven risk of recouping far less than that later. Most importantly, a short sale pays the bank whatever they can get for the home NOW. In finance, we like liquidity and appreciate the time value of money. A bank can use this partial payoff and quickly re-allocate it to less risky borrowers who pay on time, thereby realizing an immediate profit. It takes at least 6 months for a bank to recover a home once a borrower misses their first payment! As bank's must report quarterly profits, 6 months can be an eternity for them to wait their money. Okay, I think we can all agree that a short sale may be in a bank's best interest if doing nothing can result in greater losses. The concept of short refinancing works in the exact same way, except in a short refi the current homeowner remains the homeowner. Let's compare these two concepts more closely:
  • In a short refi, the lender accepts a "short payoff" for less than what is owed, just like a short sale. This is fairly easy to understand, as a full payoff would be considered a straight forward refinance.
  • In a short refi, the lender should reduce the principal balance for LESS THAN the true market value of the home. This may not be so simple to comprehend as one might think the bank would be giving up more money than necessary. However, if a lender does not leave some equity in the home, a new lender would not take the risk of refinancing it. Its investors require a little cushion in the event that property values drop further. Presently, the highest loan-to-value ratio loans are being offered by FHA (Federal Housing Administration), which are capped between 95%-97.5% depending on loan amount. Even at these high levels, banks must write-down an additional 2.5-5% in order for an FHA guaranteed loan to come to the rescue and pay them off. 2.5-5% is not too much to ask, considering the bank would pay realtors a 6% commission for short selling the same home (not to mention the added closing costs). The new FHA bailout plan calls for lenders to forgive principal balances down to market value PLUS an additional 10%! *The FHA bailout is targeted towards delinquent borrowers, which is not being discussed here. More on this topic later...
  • For a short refi, YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE LATE, unlike a short sale. *If you are or have been late, ask me about a "short modification." In fact, most refinance options are limited if you have been late on your mortgage. Present underwriting guidelines for FHA loans do not allow mortgage lates, unless those lates happened AFTER an Adjustable Rate Mortgage payment increase (See FHASecure). On the other hand, you may need to prove that there is imminent threat of becoming late if they decide to do nothing. For instance, you have a negative amortization loan that will balloon in payments 2X what you are paying now, and you will certainly default if the future payment is not reduced. Threatening to walk away, simply because there is no equity, may not justify a short refinance.
  • To enter into a short refinance negotiation with your lender, you do not have to wait for Congress to pass the FHA bailout plan (a.k.a FHA Housing Stabalization and Homeownership Retention Act of 2008).
    Short refinancing involves direct negotiation with your lender, at your lender's option, just like a short sale. Laws do not need to be enacted before a lender can agree to accept a lesser sum for payoff. For them, this is purely a business decision.
  • To enter into a short refinance negotiation with your lender, you should be able to prove financial hardship, just like a short sale. It may be difficult to convince a lender to reduce the total debt owing if you can truly afford to pay it. Remember, a lender may not be willing to accept less money unless they risk losing more by doing nothing. Lenders are aware that many borrowers would rather continue paying on their high cost mortgages instead of sacrificing their good credit. At the same time, you must be able to prove ON PAPER that you can afford principal and interest payments at the reduced loan amount.
  • For a short refi, you may want to take on the services of an experienced loan broker to pre-qualify and negotiate your case. Because you must be able to qualify for an entirely new loan, only a licensed loan originator can successfully fund a short refinance. The charge for my negotiation services is a flat fee of $2200 deposited upfront into my broker trust account, but collected only after I've obtained a resolution from your lender. If it is possible to earn a commission on the new loan, I may even be able to offer you a refund of your advance fee.

If they are so similar, why aren't short refis as common as short sales? I think it has a lot to do with banks having to deal with the idea of rewarding their borrowers for not honoring the original terms of their agreements, and the domino effect of having to reduce balances for otherwise "good loans." Things are different now. Banks have greater incentive to workout terms with existing homeowners, since their repos simply aren't selling. Besides, I think we're way past the concern of rewarding speculators and investors who made bad investment decisions. The overall health of the national economy is at stake.

Since early 2007, I have been deeply concerned about how I can assist my clients who have zero or negative equity in their homes. Finally, I can help. It is my strong belief that offering home loan and loss mitigation services now go hand-in-hand, as many home sales and refinances cannot and will not happen unless principal balances are negotiated DOWN. Please stay tuned for my write-up on "short modifications."

By: Randy Miguel

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