Mortgage Rates at 3-Year Lows: Refinance Check Time Again?

Mortgage rates for 30-year fixed loans are at the lowest level in three years, according to this Bloomberg article:

The average rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage was 3.58 percent, down from from 3.59 percent last week and the lowest since May 2013, Freddie Mac said in a statement Thursday. The average 15-year rate slipped to 2.86 percent from 2.88 percent, the McLean, Virginia-based mortgage-finance company said.

This is visually confirmed by this historical rate chart from HSH.com:

hsh2

Depending on your area, your home value may also have increased over this time period. Combine these two, and it may be a good time to check if a mortgage refinance can save you some big bucks over the term of your loan. You may lower your interest rate, shorten your term into a 15-year mortgage, and/or get rid of private mortgage insurance.

Comparison shopping mortgage rates. There’s average, and then there is what is actually being quoted for people in your situation. The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) has a nice Owning a Home resource page including a new rate data tool that takes into account your credit score, state of residence, house price, and down payment size to see what other interest rates people are getting. I like they show an actual distribution of rates and the number of lenders offering that rate:

cpfb_april2016

You can try the big networks like and Quicken Loans, or you can ask around for a referral to a reputable local broker. The CFPB recommends that you get quotes from three or more lenders. You should get an standardized 3-page form called a “Loan Estimate”. That way you can compare and even negotiate one off the other.

Get quotes from three or more lenders so you can see how they compare. Rates often change from when you first talk to a lender and when you submit your mortgage application, so don’t make a final decision before comparing official Loan Estimates.

Depending on your situation, you may face a lot of paperwork during the mortgage approval process. But hopefully the money saved will be worth it.

Think mortgage rates might go even lower? I don’t recommend playing such guessing games, but you could keep an eye on 10-year Treasury rates. Here’s an interesting chart comparing the 10-year Treasury yield and 30-year mortgage rates from Calculated Risk:

mort10ust_april2016

Real Estate Crowdfunding Experiment #1: Patch of Land Final Update

pol_final3

pol_final0My first investment into real estate crowdfunding has completed. In April 2015, I invested $5,000 into a fix-and-flip loan at the site Patch of Land. There are more details in my initial update, but here’s a quick recap of the loan details:

  • Single-family home in West Sacramento, California
  • Loan secured by property, in the first position. Backed by personal guarantee from borrower.
  • 6-month expected term (roughly April 15th to October 15th). Fix-and-flip.
  • Loan-to-value is 75% per independent 3rd-party appraisal.
  • 11% APR interest, paid monthly.
  • $5,000 invested.

Here are the initial and final numbers on the property itself:

  • Developer Purchase Price: $155,000
  • Estimated Remodel Costs: $55,000
  • Developer Contribution $31,000 + closing costs + origination fee
  • Developer Loan Request: $179,000
  • Independent 3rd-party After-Repair-Value: $238,000
  • LTV based on Independent ARV: 75%
  • Developer estimated selling price: $275,000 to $300,000
  • Actual selling price: $300,000

pol_final2

Here are the final numbers for my partial investment:

  • 4/20/15 – $5,000 invested.
  • Proceeded to collect $45.83 of interest on the 15th of every month (pro-rated on partial months).
  • 9/23/15. Loan extension granted.
  • Kept collecting $45.83 of interest on the 15th of every month (pro-rated on partial months).
  • 3/15/16. Notified that house in under contract for $300,000.
  • 3/30/16. Loan was paid in full.

The loan term was supposed to be for 6-months (one of the main reasons I chose it) but the process took longer than expected and the total loan period ended up being nearly 12 months. My total interest payments were $517.91. I also received an additional $75 fee for the loan extension. I thus received a total of $5592.91 over 346 days, for an annualized return of 12.5%. Without the extra $75 penalty fee, my interest payments would be right at the promised 11% APR.

Takeaways from the process:

  • Be patient but decisive when selecting your investment. You should be comfortable with the local market situation as well as the numbers like loan-to-value ratio. You should know what you want, ignore anything that doesn’t fit your criteria, and act quickly when you see something that does. This is really the only part of the process where you have control, so use it wisely.
  • Understand the contract. Just because there is a “6-month expected term” doesn’t mean you’ll get your money back in 6 months. You should read the terms carefully to see what options are available to the borrower if they can’t make that date. Is an extension automatically granted? Is there an increased interest rate? How long does the extension last?
  • Liquidity and more patience. One of the defining features of this type of investment is that it is highly illiquid. If I buy a mutual fund, I can sell the entire thing and get fair market value as cash in my bank account in a few business days. With an investment like this, the borrower could pay it back early, take their sweet time, or even default entirely and they’d have to liquidate the home before I get my principal back. That could take another several months. You should not need this money any time soon.
  • Low-maintenance. The good part of having no control is that you don’t have to do anything. I just sat back and had the interest automatically swept to my bank account each month. I received a simply 1099-INT for the interest earned through this loan, and it was quite easy to deal with at tax time.
  • Updates. I did not receive constant updates on this loan, but I think the updates were adequate. I was given a couple of photos on the remodel progress and updates on loan extension, house listing, house listing changes, and house being under contract. You do not have any two-way contact with the developer.

I will admit that I was nervous for a little bit on this house. I could track the house listing on real estate sites like Zillow and I questioned some of the cosmetic choices that the developer made, including painting the house an gunmetal-grey stucco. I also questioned the high listing price of $325,000, which I thought they’d never get and would scare off potential buyers. It all ended well as the house was repainted into a neutral beige and the developer agreed to sell at a good price.

Will I invest again? Well, I can’t help but be satisfied with my 12%+ annualized return, but things could also have dragged out a lot longer. I will probably invest again, but at a different real estate site, if only to see how they might handle things differently. I’m in it to make money, but I’m also in it to learn as this is my “experimental money” fund (even Burton Malkiel and Jack Bogle have such accounts).

Account screenshot:

pol_final1

RealtyShares Sign-Up Bonus Promo Code

realtyshareslogo

Update. RealtyShares has a referral program that offers a new customer who is referred by an existing client a $100 gift card after linking a bank account. I am no longer available to provide referrals as I have maxed out the limit, but you may be able to find a referral from existing client elsewhere.

Alternatively, using this link and using the code JONATHANPING25 will get you a free $25 to start.

Be sure to follow the terms and conditions and reply to your bank link confirmation e-mail with the proper promo code:

In order to receive $25 sign up bonus, user must register, connect a bank account, and use the promocode provided in the email they received about the program. Payouts to user will be within 30 days via your linked bank account. RealtyShares reserves the right to stop or modify the referral program at its discretion at any time.

Real Estate Crowdfunding 10-Month Update – Patch of Land

pol_house200Here’s an update on one of my real estate crowdfunding experiments. In mid-April 2015, I invested $5,000 into a loan for a single family fix-and-flip in West Sacramento, California. The loan was supposed to be for 6-months (one of the main reasons I chose it). (More details in my initial update.) Well, the short version is that the fix part happened, but it has now been 10 months and the house is still on the market. The borrower took the option of a month-to-month extension. The loan is still current. Here’s a screenshot and some more thoughts:

pol_feb16

Interest received in a timely manner. So far, I’ve been receiving my $45.83 every month ($550 annualized) on my $5,000 initial investment (11% APR). I enabled the option of having my interest automatically swept to my bank account each month. So far, this investment has required zero maintenance.

Read your contract. Just because there is a “6-month expected term” doesn’t mean you’ll get your money back in 6 months. You should read the terms carefully to see what options are available to the borrower if they can’t make that date. Is an extension automatically granted? Is there an increased interest rate? How long does the extension last?

Liquidity, liquidity, liquidity. One of the defining features of this type of investment is that it is highly illiquid. If I buy a mutual fund, I can sell the entire thing and get fair market value as cash in my bank account in a few business days. With an investment like this, the borrower could pay it back early, take their sweet time, or even default entirely and they’d have to liquidate the home before I get my principal back. You must be prepared for all scenarios.

Be happy with your loan-to-value ratio. I personally believe the house is listed for too high a price, but that part is not under my control. What was under my control was choosing to invest only in a loan where I was comfortable with the collateral. For example, they may be asking ~$320,000 but the loan amount was only for $179,000. As I am (one of the folks) in first position lien on the property, the house would need to sell for under $179,000 in net proceeds for me to lose principal.

In other words, have an adequate cushion so that you don’t lose sleep about it at night. It also helps that I’ve already earned 8.6% of my initial investment back over the last 10 months, cash in hand. Finally, I will repeat that this is a speculative investment using “experimental money” that makes up a very small portion of total assets. (Even Burton Malkiel and Jack Bogle have such “funny money” accounts.)

Tax documents. I received a 1099-INT for the interest earned through this loan. The 2015 form was made available in a timely manner on January 27, 2016. As such, it should be rather easy to add this in at tax time.

Behavioral Economics on Bigger House vs. Shorter Commute

mcman286Inside a post about what economists think about buying vs. renting a house, Alex Tabarrok of Marginal Revolution ended with a nice sentence that I think applies to both buying and renting:

One final point: behavioral economics tells us that we quickly get used to big houses but we never get used to commuting. So when you have a choice, go for the smaller house closer to work.

In general, our current choice of house is aligned with this advice. We could get a bigger, newer, and/or cheaper house in exchange for a longer commute, but are happy with our size (2,000 square feet) and location (I work primarily from home and my wife’s distance to work is 3.5 miles). Our jobs are relatively stable, however, as jumping to a new job could easily change our commute.

Going for the shorter commute over the bigger house certainly feels like good advice. But what are the behavorial economics studies that support this statement?

First, let’s take the statement we get used to big houses. The overall concept of the hedonic treadmill has been found in a variety of circumstances. Brickman, Coates, and Janoff-Bulman (1978) found that lottery winners and paraplegics eventually returned to their baseline happiness levels over time. That is, both the joy of winning the lottery and the sadness from being paralyzed was not permanent. Per Wikipedia, Lucas, Clark, Georgellis, & Diener (2006) also “ultimately concluded that people completely adapt, return to their baseline level of well-being, after divorce, losing a spouse, birth of a child, and females losing their job.”

However, but I couldn’t find one that studied housing specifically. There’s probably one out there? Perhaps a bigger house can simply be lumped in with other consumer material goods.

Second, if we can get used to being paralyzed or losing a spouse, who says that we don’t get used to commuting? Perhaps this is taken from Stress That Doesn’t Pay: The Commuting Paradox (Stutzer and Frey, 2004). Abstract (emphasis mine):

People spend a lot of time commuting and often find it a burden. According to economics, the burden of commuting is chosen when compensated either on the labor or on the housing market so that individuals’ utility is equalized. However, in a direct test of this strong notion of equilibrium, we find that people with longer commuting time report systematically lower subjective well-being. Additional empirical analyses do not find institutional explanations of the empirical results that commuters systematically incur losses. We discuss several possibilities of an extended model of human behavior able to explain this ‘commuting paradox’.

If you know of more please let me know in the comments.

Realty Mogul Review: Fractional Investment Property Ownership, Hard Money Lending

rmlogo

Added bonus for new sign-ups. I’ve been a registered member of RealtyMogul for a while, and they recently emailed me that if I referred a friend, we’d both get a $150 Amazon gift card just for completing the registration process (i.e. zero investment required). Here is a screenshot. The restriction is that you must be an accredited investor, which means either a single income of $200,000, joint income of $300,000, or net worth of $1 million excluding primary residence. I’ve registered at a few of these sites, and you may need to send in a scanned W-2 (was allowed to remove SSN) or brokerage statements for verification.

This is a nice carrot if you are already interested in hard money lending or fractional real estate ownership. You must either use this special sign-up link or use the promo code JONATHANP7 during registration. Offer expires 12/31/15.

*The referrer and the referred will each receive a $150 gift card (redeemable at Amazon.com) upon successful completion of the investor registration process at RealtyMogul.com by the referred party. Gift cards will be mailed within 30 business days to the address on file. This promotion is limited to 6 referrals per referral code and is only valid until December 31, 2015.

Original post from mid-2013 below:

Realty Mogul is a new “crowdfunding” start-up that lets you invest in residential investment property for as little as $5,000. You either take a partial ownership position in a property, or you become a lender to (experienced) house flippers. The new thing here is that you can do it completely online with a few mouse clicks (no mortgage brokers, real estate agents, or tenants) and again that low minimum $5,000 investment. (Thanks to reader Johnson for the tip.)

Taking an equity ownership position means that you own a little slice of a single-family home or multi-unit complex while a professional does the buying, fixing up, renting out, and eventual selling. Realty Mogul only has done one deal like this so far (fully funded) and the intended timeframe is 5-7 years. You earn rent while the house hopefully appreciates in value, and cash out when the house sells.

Being a lender looks very similar to the age-old practice of hard money lending, just with smaller chunks. You lend the money to a house flipper who needs a short-term loan (3 months to a year) and doesn’t want to deal with traditional mortgage lenders and their closing costs and long underwriting delays. The loan is backed by a personal guarantee (not too special, you can try to sue and/or hurt their credit score) and more importantly you usually have a first position lien on the property (if they don’t pay, the lender gets the title to the house). Most of the previously funded loans have an annualized interest rate of 8%.

rmshot

Realty Mogul states that they differentiate themselves from other similar startups like FundRise and Prodigy Network by (1) outsourcing the real estate expertise to vetted professionals and (2) keeping a focus on cashflow, either via rent or interest payments. Right now they’ve only had about 7 investments, but they seem to open a new one up after the last one fully funds.

Currently, the SEC limits this type of investment to accredited investors, which means either a single income of $200,000, joint income of $300,000, or net worth of $1 million excluding primary residence. When I tried the application, the only screening process was to check a few boxes and state that you qualify. Supposedly, the recently passed JOBS Act will allow them to drop this requirement later this year.

If given the option, should I drop $5,000 into this to try it out just like with person-to-person lending? $5,000 is still a lot of money to put into an investment where you are not able to do much due diligence. Getting good returns on a single investment project is all about the skill of that particular rehab team. Will the teams that sign up for capital via Realty Mogul always be the good ones, or those that are having a hard time getting funding from elsewhere? I thought that hard money lending rates were more in the 10%+ range; I don’t know if I’d be happy with 8% but maybe that’s the going rate now. Even if you have collateral, recouping your principal in case of a bad loan can get complicated and time-consuming. At least with P2P lending I can spread $5k over 200 different loans such that even though I am certain to get some defaults, it is unlikely I will get a negative return overall.

More: TechCrunch, LendAcademy, BizJournals, The Verge

Case-Shiller Home Prices Index, Adjusted For Inflation 2015

homefrontHere’s an update on residential real estate prices via the July 2015 update of the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices. Included is this chart of their 20-City Composite Home Price Index, which tracks the value of residential real estate in 20 metropolitan areas of the US:

shilller_nominal

Overall, the S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index recorded a 4.7% increase over the last 12 months. You can check more cities in the PDF, but the ones with the highest gains over the past 12 months are San Francisco at 10.4%, Denver at 10.3%, and Dallas at 8.7%.

What do home prices look like after being adjusted for inflation? We all tend to think of house prices in terms of nominal values. For example, I bought my first house in 2007 (of course) and I’ll always remember my original purchase price. But that was 8 years ago and even though inflation hasn’t been high it has still been inching along. From June 2007 to June 2015, inflation rose 12% (CPI-U).

As shared in previous updates, here is the Shiller 20-City index adjusted for inflation (CPI-U). Both data sets are not seasonally-adjusted and scaled to 100 as of January 2000.

shilller_cpi_720

Home prices are rising even after accounting for inflation, but this bottom chart presents a more tempered view of things.

Still, I feel for first-time homebuyers faced again with housing prices that appear to march upwards every month (and potentially out of reach).

Economic Trend: Affordable Housing via Multi-Generational Living

As a parent of young children, the following chart from this CityLab article definitely caught my attention:

multigen1

The trend is clear that as time goes on, more and more people are living with their parents. At what point does it start being called living with your children? For the purposes of this chart, is child living with a parent (suggesting parent is head-of-household) different from a parent living with a child (suggesting that child is head-of-household)? I think so. Otherwise, you’d think there would be a bump at ages past 65.

The article speculates the eventual effect on housing:

Jordan Rappaport, a senior economist for the Kansas City Fed, uses these figures to explain the transformation in the multifamily housing market over the past 30 years. Rappaport’s paper explains that, in the short term, young adults are driving the market for new multifamily housing construction. Over the long term, however, retiring Baby Boomers will drive multifamily housing construction as they downsize. […]

As Baby Boomers begin to retire and downsize, they will drive the construction of new multifamily housing. What that means, we don’t fully know yet. This new construction might not look much like the condos and apartments that developers are building today in order to chase young-adult households. It also might not look like the downsizing options preferred by seniors in the past.

I agree that the overall economic trend is going to be more multi-generational housing. It’s just cheaper. Housing costs eat up a huge chunk of income, and sharing housing can reduce overall costs for both parties involved. As quoted in my previous post Economics of Shared Living: Estimated Savings From Having Roommates, Scott Burns notes that “Cooperation is a wonderful but generally overlooked substitute for money.”

In places where land is quite expensive like California and Hawaii, “in-law” or “ohana” units are quite popular. The official term is “accessory dwelling unit”, or ADU, where separate living quarters are created on what was previously a singly-family home. This could either be a detached studio or the converted wing of the original house with a kitchenette to add privacy and separation. Your parents could live there, or your adult kid could live there, often both.

Often, these are only legal if you have a direct relative living in them. However, new legislation has been introduced in many areas to make these legal rental units. In San Francisco, you can now apply to legalize your un-permited unit. In Honolulu, a bill to legalize ADUs of up to 800 square feet was just signed into law. Basically you can now add a little, legal rental on the side of your house.

I think these shared-but-separate living situations will start popping up more and more in the rest of the United States. Many new home designs now include such units from the very beginning. It is a way of creating more affordable housing for renters and additional income for homeowners.

4 Different Rules of Thumb For How Much House You Can Afford

housemoneyUpdated. Buying a house is always an exciting yet terrifying time. Deciding on how much we can “afford” is often limited by how much someone will lend us. Mortgage lenders use income size, income stability, credit score, down payment size, and other factors before approving a loan. Let’s explore the idea of a “rule of thumb” to greatly simplify such a complicated matter. The most common way to express affordability is as a multiple of your household or individual annual income.

CNN Money says 2.5 times:

The rule of thumb is to aim for a home that costs about two-and-a-half times your gross annual salary. If you have significant credit card debt or other financial obligations like alimony or even an expensive hobby, then you may need to set your sights lower.

The now-defunct Washington Mutual Bank suggested up to 4-5 times:

As a broad generalization, most people can afford to purchase a house worth about three times their total (gross) annual income, assuming a 20% down payment and a moderate amount of other long-term debts, such as car or student loan payments. With no other debts, you can probably afford a house worth up to four or even five times your annual income.

Investopedia offers up 2 to 2.5 times:

Generally speaking, most prospective homeowners can afford to mortgage a property that costs between 2 and 2.5 times their gross income.

Running Your Own Numbers

Where do these numbers above come from? Most government-backed mortgages utilize the following ratios for their underwriting:

  • Front-end debt-to-income ratio = housing-related costs (PITI) divided by gross income. PITI stands for principal, interest, taxes, and insurance.
  • Back-end debt-to-income ratio = housing-related costs (PITI) plus all recurring monthly debt, all divided by gross income. Recurring monthly debt includes student loans, car loans, credit card debt, and alimony/child-support obligations.

Essentially, they want to be sure that housing costs don’t take over your entire budget and also that you can still handle your total monthly debt load. (Left out are things like food, transportation, other insurance, health care, etc.) Each of the major lending agencies has their own set of DTI limits, but let’s use the standard Federal Housing Administration (FHA) limits of 31% for front-end DTI and 43% for back-end DTI.

You can insert your own numbers here, but let’s use these statistics based on the average US household:

  • Household income. Government statistics have the median US household earning around $52,000 gross a year, or $4,300 a month.
  • Taxes and homeowner’s insurance. Depending on the survey, the national average is somewhere between $2,000 and $3,000 for annual property taxes and roughly $1,000 for annual homeowner’s insurance premiums. Together that’s roughly $300 a month.
  • Credit card debt. The Federal Reserve reports the average household credit card debt to be about $7,500. The underwriting guidelines use minimum payments, so if you assume a 3% minimum payment that’s $225 a month.
  • Car loans. Experian reports that the average monthly loan payments was $450 for new cars and $350 for used cars. Let’s use $400 for this exercise and assume one new car per household.
  • Student loans. For households with student debt, Brookings estimates that the average monthly payment is $240.
  • Current 30-year fixed mortgage rate. Bankrate and HSH report this to be about 4.25%.  You can always refinance your mortgage to lower your rate as well.

20% Down Payment, 31% Front-End Ratio
Using a 31% front-end ratio, that means PITI (principal + interest + taxes + insurance) can be $1,333 a month. Taking out $300 for taxes and homeowner’s insurance, that leaves us $1,033 a month for principal and interest. With a 20% down payment and a 4.25% interest rate, that works out to roughly a $210,000 maximum loan size and $260,000 maximum total home price = 5 times gross income.

20% Down Payment, 43% Back-End Ratio
Using a 43% back-end ratio and the average consumer debt numbers from above, we start with $1,850 and take out $300 for taxes and HO insurance, $225 for credit card payments, $400 for car payments, $240 for student loans. That leaves us with $685 for the mortgage payment at 4.25%. The resulting $140,000 max loan size with 20% down payment gives a $175,000 total home price = 3.4 times gross income.

5% Down Payment, 31% Front-End Ratio
The minimum down payment amount for a FHA loan is actually only 3.5%, but you will be subject to additional Upfront Mortgage Insurance Premium (UFMIP) of 1.35% of the loan amount plus an ongoing PMI of 0.80-0.85% of the loan amount annually based on your loan-to-value ratio. Having to pay PMI means less money available to go towards the loan, so our numbers now only give us a $185,000 max loan size. With a 5% down payment, that means a total home price of $195,000 = 3.75 times gross income.

5% Down Payment, 43% Back-End Ratio
Doing the same calculation using the 43% back-end ratio which takes into account other debt payments, you end up with only roughly $110,000 max loan size and loan and total home price of $117,000 = 2.25 times gross income.

By doing this exercise, we see that someone with a car note, credit card debt, and student loans is certainly going to have a much different measure of affordability than someone without such pre-existing obligations. Perhaps there is no easy rule of thumb? If I had to, I would say that a household with “significant” debt could start at 2x income, while someone with very little debt could start with 3x income. But it shouldn’t be too difficult to use this example to get much more accurate numbers.

Most importantly, just because someone is willing to lend you a certain amount, doesn’t mean you have to take it! Here are some posts that may help you get the most value for your housing dollar:

Home Improvement Receipts: Scan Now, Save Indefinitely

housecostbasis2For many people, when they sell a home they don’t even consider taxes. But over time, especially if you live in a relatively expensive area, more and more people will bump up against the federal capital gains exclusions of $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for couples. (You must have lived in the home for at least two out of the five years before the sale.)

This NY Times article projects that the following share of homeowners in certain high-cost cities will exceed the 250k/500k limits within the next 10 years, assuming just 3.5% annual growth and no further improvements. (Also consider the uncomfortable idea that you really can’t know if you’ll be single or married when it comes time to sell your home.)

housecostbasis

Most importantly, the article provides a good reminder to save all of your home-related receipts because they can raise your cost basis and thus reduce any potential capital gains. It’s so easy, and those little pieces of paper can literally be worth thousands of dollars down the road when the tax bill hits.

In general, you should save all of your home repair and remodeling receipts, although things considered maintenance won’t count (painting, fixing leaks, patching cracks, etc.). Here are a bunch of things taken from IRS Pub 523, Selling Your Home. Don’t take this as specific tax advice, but instead as a potential reminder in case you have done something on this list but don’t have the receipts properly stored away and archived.

Home Acquisition and Closing Costs.

  • Charges for installing utility services, legal fees for preparing the sales contract, title search fees, recording fees, survey fees, transfer or stamp taxes, and owner’s title insurance.

Home Improvements

  • Additions. Bedrooms, bathrooms, garages, decks, patios.
  • Exterior. New roof, siding, satellite dish, storm windows.
  • Interior. Built-in appliances, kitchen modernization, flooring, wall-to-wall carpeting, fireplace.
  • Lawns and grounds. New driveways, landscaping, fences, retaining walls, sprinkler system, swimming pools.
  • Systems. Heating, air conditioning, furnace, duct work, air/water filtration, security system.
  • Plumbing. Septic, water heater, water softener, water filtration.
  • Insulation. Attic, walls, floors, pipes, ductwork.

Physical receipts can get lost or fade over time, but the IRS accepts electronic records so it is quite easy to make a PDF using either your home scanner or just your smartphone. I use the well-reviewed Scanner Pro app and am impressed by its quality, but there are many competitors out there that I haven’t tried. You can then save to a cloud service like Dropbox or Evernote, or simply e-mail them to a searchable gmail account as another form of backup.

Charlie Munger On Leverage and Paying Your Mortgage Off Before Retirement

housemoneyWhile reading back through various transcript notes from the 2015 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting, I recalled the following quote from the Q&A session. A shareholder had asked why Berkshire had never borrowed money to buy stocks (i.e. leverage). Charlie Munger replied:

It’s obviously true. If we’d used the leverage that some others did, Berkshire would have been much bigger … but we would have been sweating at night. And it’s crazy to sweat at night.

This is an important point, as many other similar investors have used leverage to boost their returns (not always, but some with success). Buffett and Munger certainly could have justified such an action, especially given their excellent investment track record.

Munger did not make this jump, but I believe but an individual investor could also apply this quote to paying off their mortgage early. Even I enjoy discussing the details of mortgage payoff vs. retirement savings, and acknowledge that mortgage interest rates are low while stock returns are historically higher. Why use your money to pay off your mortgage when you could invest in stocks instead?

The problem is that if you are putting off paying off your mortgage just so you can invest in stocks, you are using leverage! That is, you are taking borrowed money and then putting it at risk. That may increase your overall returns, but it will also increase your exposure to bad outcomes. For most people – not everyone, but most – paying off your mortgage debt will help you sleep better at night. Based on his biography, Warren Buffett himself bought a house in cash when he got married. Even though he was confident he would have made more money by putting those funds toward his investment partnership, he chose not to have a mortgage.

In addition, many financial advisors are incentivized to maximize the amount of your money that they manage, as they can’t earn any fees off your home equity. Wes Moss, a fee-only advisor and Money Matters radio show host, ignores that and gives blunt advice in his book You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think:

Sooner or later, every homeowner asks the simple question, “Should I pay off my mortgage?” and immediately gets bombarded with a variety of complicated, hedged responses. Here is the simplest possible answer: Yes. If you are anywhere near retirement and can afford to pay off your mortgage, you should.

I view this as an example of how real-world, experience-based advice can differ from theoretical, academic-based advice. Humans are not perfectly rational. I have never regretted paying off my mortgage early, although I do agree with the qualification that mortgage payoff should roughly coincide with retirement date.

* Of course, Warren Buffett quickly added: “…over financial things.” Ba-dum-bum-ching!

Real Estate Crowdfunding Experiment #1: Property Details and Numbers Breakdown

polpic

Woohoo, I just received my first interest payment on my real estate crowdfunding experiment #1. I put in $5,000 at 11% APR, which should work out about $46 a month but the first partial payment was an underwhelming $16.81. I e-mailed Patch of Land and they said I could share the details of my loan, so here they are. If you are a SEC accredited investor and a (free) registered member, you can view it on their site.

Financial details. Here is the summary and breakdown from the Patch of Land listing:

The developer is requesting a loan of $179,000 in order to purchase and renovate the underlying property. The property was purchased for a total of $155,000 in April of 2015. There is minor renovation needed for the underlying property, totaling $55,000. The borrower will receive 2 draw(s) totaling $175,420 over the course of the loan. The initial draw in the amount of $120,420 occurs when the loan closes. The second draw of $55,000 will be disbursed when renovation is completed. The borrower plans to sell in 1 year or under.

polwestsac

Loan is secured by the property, in the first position. Also have personal guarantee from borrower (not worth much). 6-month term (roughly April 15th to October 15th). 11% APR interest, paid monthly.

So the developer is contributing roughly $40,000 and the loan is roughly $180,000. So a total of $220,000 is being put into this house. Considering that the loan will charge roughly $10,000 in interest over 6 months, plus a potential 6% brokers commission upon sale, this house would have to sell for around $245,000 for the developer to break even. The developer thinks the house can sell for $275,000 but it all depends on how well they spend that $55,000 in renovation costs and how the local market holds in the next 6 months. A 3rd-party appraisal gave a estimated after-repair value of roughly $240,000, which is probably a conservative number but suggests a potentially tight profit opportunity for the developer.

In the end, I do believe it likely that the loan amount of $179,000 can be recovered from this property in a liquidation scenario (see below). It is important to note that the developer doesn’t actually get the final $55k until the renovations are completed and thus the home will be worth more.

Property details. Single-family home in West Sacramento, California. The address is 508 Laurel Lane. You can look up details from public records using sites like Zillow or Trulia. Built in 1954, 3 bedrooms, 1 bath, 1,675 sf living area, 7,000 sf lot. The pictures provided suggest a house that is definitely in need of a kitchen remodel and light repairs, but it wasn’t destroyed inside. The house is about the same size and appearance of other houses in the neighborhood.

I am not familiar with the Sacramento area. The zip code of 95691 appears to have slightly above-average selling prices compared to West Sacramento overall. According to Google Maps, the neighborhood is relatively close to freeway access and downtown Sacramento. I also looked at Google Street View and I liked that the neighboring houses all appeared to have well-maintained houses and manicured lawns. That suggests pride of ownership and/or a certain level of peer pressure to keep your house looking nice. Based on a quick Craiglist search of comparable rentals, this house should support roughly $1,400 to $1,500 in monthly rent, which is not bad compared to the ~$245,000 that I’d like this house to sell for once fixed up.

In the end, there are a number of risks in this deal, but otherwise it wouldn’t pay an 11% annualized interest rate. From my vague understanding of hard money loans, I was hoping for much lower LTVs in the 50% range instead of the 80% range. Perhaps the lessening of loan standards from new money flooding this new asset class is already happening. It would be educational to see how they handle a liquidation… but I should just sit back and quietly cash my interest checks.