Something weird is happening with mortgages …

Real estate investing is largely the business of using debt to acquire streams of income and build oceans of equity.

In the hands of a professional real estate investor, mortgages are like a super-charged power tool … making the job of wealth building easier, faster, and more profitable.

Of course, powerful tools in the hands of amateurs can do a lot of damage … hacking off chunks of equity or creating wounds which hemorrhage cash flow.

But in all cases, for any investor who has, or is building, a lot debt in their portfolio … it’s wise to pay close attention to the condition of credit markets.

Sometimes new tools create opportunity. Sometimes there are hints that something might be breaking down.

In a little more esoteric corner of our news feed, we noticed a potentially concerning headline …

MBS Day Ahead: Another Chance to Watch MBS Suffer
Mortgage News Daily, 8/27/19

For the uninitiated, MBS isn’t referring to the controversial crown prince from Saudi Arabia. They’re talking about Mortgage Backed Securities.

Mortgage-backed securities are the vehicle Wall Street uses to funnel investment dollars into Main Street real estate.

As you may recall, it was Wall Street stuffing toxic sub-prime mortgages into the MBS they sold to institutional investors that triggered the 2008 financial crisis.

So it’s well known that MBS suffering can lead to serious Main Street suffering, especially for aggressive users of mortgages … like real estate investors.

The notable takeaway from the article is this chart which shows mortgage rates have decoupled from 10-year Treasury yields …

image

Source: Mortgage News Daily

According to The Real Estate Guys™ secret decoder ring, this means mortgage rates aren’t falling as far as fast as those of the 10-year U.S. Treasury bond.

This is notable, because it’s generally accepted among mortgage pros that the two are inextricably linked … because it’s always been that way.

But not now. Weird.

Of course, it begs the question … WHY?

According to the article, bond “traders are citing increased supply … with an absence of buyers …”

Now you can see from the chart, this has only been going on for a couple of weeks … so perhaps it’s just a little anomaly and nothing to freak out about.

But just like some war vets have panic attacks when a backfiring engine pops like live ammo, we get a little spooked when the bid on MBS dries up.

After all, it was MBS going no bid was the nuclear bomb which ignited the 2008 credit market collapse.

No one is saying another Great Financial Crisis is imminent … although for the aware and prepared, it could be a HUGE opportunity …

… but softness in MBS demand is a dot on the curve worth noting.

Looking at some other dots …

US home price growth slows for 15th straight month
Yahoo Finance, 8/27/19

“The market for existing-home sales remained soft in June despite some boost from lower mortgage rates as consumers remain wary of high home prices …”

Remember, home prices reflect the value of the collateral for mortgages being packaged up and put into mortgage-backed securities.

When property prices are rising, lenders (the buyers of MBS) see their security go up in the form of greater “protective equity” which insulates them from loss in the case of default.

Also, equity gained from rising property values creates greater incentives for the borrower to make the payments.

Sometimes, in a rising price environment, as lenders compete to make loans, they’re willing to take on more risk at inception …

… because they believe rising property values will increase their security over time.

So whereas a lender might really want 20-25% protective equity (75-80% loan-to-value) … they might be willing to originate a loan at only 10-15% to get the loan.

Then, as prices rise and equity builds, the lender quickly ends up with the protective equity they’re looking for.

But when prices slow or reverse, you’d expect the opposite …

FHA sets limits on cash-out refinancing
The Washington Post, 8/27/19

“Beginning Sept. 1, FHA borrowers will now be limited to cash-out refinancing a maximum of 80 percent of their home value.”

We’ve also heard rumors that Fannie Mae will be limiting access to cash-out loans on multi-family properties.  Stay tuned on that one.

Is this a meltdown? Hardly. But it’s a subtle shift in the wind which bears watching.

Meanwhile, rates are GREAT. Loans are still largely readily available.

And if you’ve got lots of equity and cash flow, now could be a great time to liquefy equity using long term debt while paying careful attention to cash flow.

If there’s a chance prime properties in solid markets will be going on sale in the not-too-distant future, you’ll want to be prepared to go shopping.

Meanwhile, there are still affordable rental markets offering reliable cash flows TODAY.

Repositioning equity from high-priced markets to affordable cash flow markets or product niches can be a great way to make your balance sheet work harder … without having to wait for a recession (or worse) to provide bargains.

After all, sometimes markets don’t crash suddenly or at all. They simply recede slowly for a season before ratcheting back up.  So sitting on the sidelines waiting for “the big one” could take your entire career. Base hits win games, too. Never swinging means you’ll never get on base.

Meanwhile, it’s probably a good idea to pay close attention to credit markets on the macro level and cash flow on the micro level.

Until next time … good investing!


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Let the Government Fund Your Next Multi-Family Deal

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2/16/14: Ask The Guys – Loan, LLCs and What To Do About a Big Fannie

If you want great answers, you have to ask great questions.

In this edition of Ask The Guys, we take on several great questions from our amazing audience!

Broadcasting from the beach in beautiful Belize because we can:

  • Your unbelizeable host, Robert Helms
  • His rummy co-host, Russell Gray
  • The Godfather of white sand real estate, Bob Helms

You’d think with that tee-up that this whole episode is about Belize.  But it’s not.  We just happened to be in Belize when we did the show.  Not sure how we got there.  Rum may have been involved.  But when we realized it was time to do the show, there we were in Belize, so sometimes you just do what you gotta do.   You have no idea the sacrifices we make to bring you The Real Estate Guys™ Radio Show.

There are few things we like better than answering your questions.  Mostly because we don’t have to think of a topic for an episode. 😉   But also, because we always get great questions.  We wish we had time to answer them all.  Since we can’t, we pick out those we think are most relevant to the audience.

How do we know what the audience likes?  By reading all the questions that come in.  So add your views to the discussion by sending your question to us on our Ask The Guys page.

Remember!  We’re not lawyers, CPAs, or investment advisors.  In fact, we’re not even that bright.  So before you run off and put real money at risk because “The Real Estate Guys said so”, remember we’re only sharing ideas and personal opinions.  Always check with your own qualifed advisors before taking action on anything you hear on the radio, find on the internet or read on the bathroom wall.

With that said, let’s get into it…

Should I dump a great loan so I can put the property in an LLC?

We get this one a LOT.  And like nearly every question we get, the answer is…it depends.

In this listener’s case, he has a below market interest rate on a loan he got when he was the owner-occupant.  Great!  But the bank may call the loan if he moves it into an LLC.

Stop right there.  Why would the bank do that?

Well, in the real world, as long as you’re making the payments on time, they probably won’t.  At least, we’ve never seen it happen.  But they have the right to because nearly every loan contains a “due on sale or transfer” clause which “accelerates” the loan in the event of any change of ownership.

But even if you make the payments on time, if you have a below market interest rate, is the lender motivated to get the money back from you so they can loan it to someone else at today’s higher rate?  Maybe.  It’s a risk you take.

Now if you call up the lender and ask ahead of time, our experience is they almost always say “no”.  So you can try to sneak it by and hope no one notices, which happens all the time, but you run the risk of losing that lush loan.

Or, you can go ahead and transfer the property into the LLC and get a new loan.  Which begs the question, “Is it worth it?”

First, the loan will undoubtedly cost more.  Not only will you pay today’s higher market rates, now that it’s a rental property, you’ll pay the additional risk premium (higher interest) for it not being owner-occupied.  Plus, you can’t get government subsidized loans like Fannie, Freddie or FHA if you are using an entity like an LLC.  So you’ll pay even more.

Add to that the time, expense and hassle of forming an LLC and transferring the property, plus the ongoing expense of maintaining the entity, and it really starts to add up.

So if it’s a somewhat expensive hassle, why consider it?

It’s all about asset protection…and perhaps about privacy.  Let’s deal with each individually.

First, asset protection.  An entity like an LLC creates a firewall which isolates the liability created by the property.  In order to get to assets not owned by the LLC (like everything else you own), the plaintiff (the person suing you) will need to “pierce the corporate veil” and prove in a court that you’re personally liable for whatever damage they suffered.

BUT…before it ever comes to your other assets, they will need to get past your insurance policies.  In most cases when you or your entity is sued, your insurance policies will defend you.  And because the lawyers really don’t want to go to court, they’ll just work together to get the insurance company to settle.  Sometimes, they’ll ask you to kick something in too, which is no fun.  But it’s less expensive than going to trial.

At least that’s our experience.

So, when you look at all the added expenses of giving up the great loan, it might be a better use of money to beef up your insurance policies.

Of course, if there’s millions of dollars of net worth exposed to the liability of the property, then the added expense might be worth it.

This is why we say, “it depends”.  Check with you own professional advisors and they’ll help you make the right choice for you.

How do you build a great local team when investing out of the area?

This is another great question and is less complicated to answer.

First, look for referrals from other successful investors in the area.  Just being referred by someone is an edge because now the service provider is risking both your business and his current client’s (the referrer) if they do a poor job.  That alone is worth something.

Next, find the real estate agent who controls most of the kind of inventory you’re looking for.  That is, what name seems to show up the most on the For Sale listings?  This is obviously a person who’s very active in the market.  And with the internet, it’s easy to find them and check our their on-line reputation before you ever meet face to face.

Property managers can be a great starting point in a new market.  Someone who primarily or exclusively does property management often has less of a sales agenda than nearly anyone else on your real estate team.  Why?  Because while the agent and lender will handle your transaction and get paid all at once then are off to the next deal, the property manager is looking into a long term relationship where they’ll make their money over time…like you do.

Local market real estate expos and investment clubs can be a great place to meet fellow investors and service providers who are active in working with local investors.  You may have to fly into a town a few times to network and have meetings, but once the team is built, you can operate fairly easily from afar.

What’s the optimal amount to put down on a property?

We LOVE this question. In fact, we cover this topic extensively in our out-of-print book Equity Happens (we’re working on an update) and our Real Equity Home Study Course.

The short answer is:  Use as much leverage as you can comfortably debt service when allowing for unexpected expenses and inability to raise rents substantially.

Obviously, prevailing interest rates, local competition, the strength of the local job market, macro-economic factors that affect cost of living (interest rates, oil prices, healthcare costs, etc), all affect the durability of the rental income and must be carefully considered when pushing the leverage ratio higher.

But rather than just dump money into paying down a loan when mortgage rates are still dirt cheap, think about taking the extra cash and buying income producing investments that outperform the cost of the mortgage.  For more ideas on this topic, check out Using Oil to Lubricate Your Investment Portfolio and Real Asset Investing.

How can I keep investing if I can’t get any more Fannie Mae loans?

Another great question that comes up a lot.

First, even though post 2008, it seems like the only loans available are government backed, that’s starting to change.  So when you Fannie (portfolio) has gotten too big, you have the option of switching to private (non-government) money.  This could be owner-carry back, hard-money lenders, mortgage pools or any number of independent funds that have stepped into the pick up the pieces after the mortgage meltdown wiped out most the mortgage banks.

You can also go commercial by moving into apartment buildings (5 residential units or more), commercial, industrial, retail or office properties.  For the average rental home owner, the natural progression is apartments.  But you could look at mobile home parks, self-storage, or even parking lots.

Assuming you want to stay in the residential 1-4 space and collect more Fannie loans, you could take on credit partners.  These are people who have virgin credit scores when it comes to Fannie / Freddie, and you partner.

Whew!  If you read all the way to here, you’re a hard core information junkie.  Great!  So are we.  So you keep reading and listening, and we’ll keep reading and talking.  Then let us know what you think on our Feedback page.  And if you love the show, please give us some love on our iTunes page.  Each positive review not only inspires to keep working, it improves the show’s ranking, which is helpful for attracting sponsors to support the effort and VIP guests to interview on the show.

Thanks!  Now, please enjoy the latest edition of Ask The Guys, where believe it or not, there are additional questions discussed that didn’t make it into this mega-blog.  But we’re getting callouses on our finger tips from typing, so enjoy the podcast!

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The Real Estate Guys™ radio show and podcast provides real estate investing news, education, training and resources that help real estate investors succeed. Visit our Feedback page and tell us what you think!

1/8/12: Show Me the Money! Financing Outlook for 2012

In the classic musical movie, Cabaret, Joel Grey and Liza Minnelli sang, “Money makes the world go ’round…”

A couple of decades later, Cuba Gooding Jr., playing an ambitious football player, screamed at his agent, Jerry McGuire (Tom Cruise), “Show me the money!”

The point is that money is the lubricant that keeps the machinery of commerce humming – and nowhere is that more true than in real estate investing.

But it’s no secret that a few years ago the world of real estate financing imploded, wreaking havoc on balance sheets from Wall Street to Main Street.  Now that the dust is starting to settle, what’s the state of the union when it comes to real estate financing?  To find out, we called up our old friend, The Investment Mortgage Guy.

Making mortgage music together in the studio:

  • Your host and leader of the band, Robert Helms
  • Your co-host and cleaner of the instruments, Russell Gray
  • Expert guest, The Investment Mortgage Guy, Rob Bonahoom

In an industry where lots of businesses and people have quit, Rob Bonahoom has managed to persevere through massive change and market adversity to remain active in the business of helping investors find funding for their real estate acquisitions.  So we thought he’d be the perfect guy to bring us up to speed on both residential and commercial lending in the new reality of mortgage underwriting.

Rob reveals what lenders are looking for from today’s borrowers and why newbies have a significant advantage.  Even more fun, he shares specific strategies for how investors with little cash or credit can still get into the apartment game.  So if you got whacked in the downturn, you’re not out of the game yet!

Rob also gets into detail on how government backed mortgages are working for real estate investors today.  As we’ve always said, because real estate is such an important part of the economy and serves an essential human need – so politicians have a huge motivation (in spite of their disagreements about methods!) to help make money available…especially for residential property.

We go on to talk local banks (flush with cash!), FHA 203k, SBA loans and more!

So listen and learn as Rob Bonahoom shows us the money!

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The Real Estate Guys™ radio show and podcast provides real estate investing news, education, training and resources to help real estate investors succeed.

7/11/10: Ask The Guys – Bankrupcty, Tax Liens, Cheap Houses and More!

So we’re wandering around the radio show one day trying to think of something to talk about.  Then we trip over a big bag of email and say, “Hey! We haven’t answered listener questions for awhile. Let’s do that!”  So today’s episode is all about you and your questions.

Taking the stand and promising to answer each question to the best of our admittedly limited abilities:

  • Host and Professional Pontificator, Robert Helms
  • Co-Host and Head of The Real Estate Guys Research Institute, Russell Gray
  • The Man Who’s Forgotten More Real Estate than Most Will Ever Know, the Godfather of Real Estate, Bob Helms

One of our favorite things to do is show off how smart we are.  For obvious reasons, we don’t get to do that very often, but we always look forward to the opportunity.  Then again, if you subscribe to the idea that people learn by making mistakes, we’re REALLY smart!

Anyway, we get lots of questions from people and we love it.  So please keep ’em coming!  Go to Ask the Guys and ask away!  For this episode, we grabbed a handful from the email bag and here are some we found.

(For privacy purposes, we’ve omitted the names, phone numbers, social security numbers, birthdates, drivers license numbers, bank account information, picture, height, weight, race, religion, sexual orientation and favorite ice cream)

I just came out of a Chapter 7 bankruptcy.  How can I get a mortgage?

I found properties for $500 – $1000!  Seems like a no-brainer.  Am I missing something?

Is Dallas a dangerous place?

The Great Recession wiped me out.  How do I get going again?

What do you think of using retirement accounts to buy real estate?

Are tax liens a safe investment?

And our personal favorite:

Is it still possible to buy property for no money down?

Tune in for the answers to these and other exciting questions on this episode of The Real Estate Guys™ Radio Show! (theme music plays here).

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Real Estate Field Trip to Dallas Texas!

Why has Dallas become one of our favorite US real estate markets?

  1. Texas is ranked the #1 business friendly state in the US. Last time we looked, tenants have an easier time paying the rent when they have a job.  And landlords have an easier time paying the mortgage when tenants pay the rent.  Jobs are good.
  2. Dallas is the nation’s 5th largest media market. Hey, we are radio guys.
  3. Dallas is in the top 10 big US cities where it makes more financial sense to rent rather than own.  That means tenants stay tenants longer.  Less turnover means less expenses.  Less expenses means better cash flow.  Cash flow is good.
  4. Dallas real estate values have held up very well throughout the mortgage meltdown and the resulting unprecedented drop in real estate values across the US.  After the last two years of “Drop Zone”, a Merry-Go-Round sounds exciting enough.
  5. Dallas is only 2-1/2 hours from Belize. Does that count?
  6. The Real Estate Guys™ TV show is taped in Dallas (Addison actually, but it’s close enough).
  7. Most rental residential real estate prices are well within the FHA / Fannie / Freddie conforming guidelines. That means it’s easier to get loans.  It’s also easier for resale buyers to get loans.  Life is easier when you can get loans.
  8. Our friend, Ken McElroy, says Dallas is one of his favorite markets for the next 5-10 years.  And we think he’s well qualified to have an opinion.
  9. Infrastructure! Centrally located in the US, a huge airport, a great freeway system, on the path from Mexico to the North and Northeast, a big labor force and good higher education.  Plus they have an amazing $1.2 billion football stadium.  That’s infrastructure, isn’t it?
  10. Big and diverse economy. Dallas is home to lots of huge companies.  But for every huge company, there are lots of little ones that support them.

We could go on, but you get the idea.  But why take our word for it?  Come to Dallas and check it out for yourself! Reading blogs and looking at stats on the internet is interesting in “student mode”.  To get to “investor mode” (where you actually buy, own and manage real estate), you need to visit the market.  How long does it take to learn a new market?  A lot longer if you go it alone!

Invest a weekend with us in Dallas and we’ll help you compress time frames. We’ll help you get the lay of the land (literally!), explore various sub-markets, meet local experts and service providers; plus we’ll introduce you to some of our key contacts.  And no one is going to ask (or pressure) you to buy anything including the next “boot camp” or any specific property.  That’s not the way we roll.  But if you find something or someone that interests you, you can follow up when you’re ready.  Sound fair?

For more information, about the next field trip to Dallas, click here.

Part 1: Report from the National Association of Realtors Conference

This is Russ. I just got back from 3 days in beautiful San Diego where I attended the NAR Annual Conference.  Robert drew the short stick and had to go to Belize to handle some business. Poor guy.

In case you don’t know, the National Association of Realtors is the world’s largest trade association, boasting well over a million members. Pretty good for an industry that’s been at the epicenter of the “world financial crisis”.

I noticed the AP reported on FHA Commissioner David Stevens’ speech at NAR.  They said that Stevens told the Realtors “that concerns the agency is headed for the same financial trouble that snared Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the subprime sector are unwarranted.”

Really?

I didn’t hear the speech because I was more interested in what people on the front lines were thinking and feeling about the market.  Besides, we’d already commented on our observations about FHA in two previous blog posts: Are We Going to Lose our Fannie? and Hey FHA! Your Fannie is Showing. You can find those in the Clues in the News category.

Why should you care about FHA? As quoted in the AP article, Stevens said it best, “Without FHA there would be no (housing) market, and this economy’s recovery would be significantly slower.”

The surest sign there’s trouble is when a bureaucrat comes out and tells your there isn’t  (“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” ).  Especially when all evidence says there is.  It’s even worse, when the “no problem” evidence provided is (again, from the AP article), “the agency has $31 billion in capital – $3.5 billion more than it had a year ago.”  But (and it’s a big one), how does that compare to the number of loans insured?  The AP article says that FHA has insured nearly a quarter of ALL new home loans made this year.

Consider these recent FHA related reports:

11/10/09 MiamiHerald.com – “FHA moves to boost condo market – The FHA recently announced more lenient, albeit temporary, underwriting guidelines for condo projects”

11/12/09 DSNews.com (reports to the mortgage default servicing industry) – “The FHA told Congress and reporters Thursday that its cash reserve fund had deteriorated to $3.6 billion – the lowest it’s been in the agency’s 75 year history.”

11/13/09 Wall Street Journal – “The FHA’s Bailout Warning – Whoops, there it is. – Critics of Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac were waved off as cranks and assured that the companies would not need a taxpayer bailout right up until the moment that they did.”

11/14/09 AP – “FHA Boss: FHA is not the new subprime” (this is the article written at the NAR conference that I opened up talking about). Hmmmm……I’m having déjà vue all over again…again.

Not to be redundant (okay, maybe a little redundant), but Supply and Demand only work when there is capacity to pay.  If 100 people are starving and there’s only 1 Big Mac for sale, one would think that the price would get bid up, right?  But that assumes (dangerous word) that those people have the capacity to pay. If they don’t, the price won’t rise.

The lesson?  Stevens is right (for now) that FHA money is a BIG part of housing.  If it goes away or is tightened, then there will likely be a dip in prices as less people can compete for available properties.  Does that mean stay away?  Not necessarily.

Eventually, private money (and there’s lots of it!) will make its way back into mortgages. Why? Because it’s profitable and real estate is real and the demand for it is forever. But until the sands stop shifting, private money will stay away. It’s no fun to play a game when the rules keep changing. As long as private lenders think they will have to compete against government (taxpayer) subsidized non-profit lenders, and/or that legislators will impede or negate their rights to recourse under the contract (i.e., stop a foreclosure or force a modification), then private money is going to stay away.

And who can blame them? But, (oops, my opinion is showing), even though all this government tinkering is designed to lessen the pain (ironically caused by government tinkering), it will also prolong it.  But I guess private money is coming to the rescue one way or the other, since taxes take private money and funnel it into housing through the government via bailouts.  Not my first choice, but that’s the way its working right now.

For joe schmo investors like us, bread and butter properties in highly populated markets with good transportation, education and economic infrastructure still make sense – as long as they cash flow and you’ve got reserves to allow you to own for 10-20 years.  Because when private money does come back and is added to all the new money we’ve added through stimulus, it’s very conceivable that prices will go up.  But if you have positive cash flow, amortization (pay down of today’s cheap loans over time), and tax breaks, you will still look good in 20 years.  And who doesn’t want to look good in 20 years?

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11/8/09: What the HECM? The Realities and Risks of Reverse Mortgages

No, that’s not a typo.  HECM stands for Home Equity Conversion Mortgage, the FHA brand of reverse mortgages.

“What the HECM is a reverse mortgage and what the HECM does a real estate investor care about them?” you may ask.  Well, that’s what today’s show is all about!

Sitting backwards in their chairs for today’s episode:

  • Host, Robert Helms
  • Co-Host and Financial Strategist, Russell Gray
  • The Godfather of Real Estate, Bob Helms
  • Certified Mortgage Planner and Reverse Mortgage Expert, Mark Soto

Consistent with The Real Estate Guys’ policy of “No Listener Left Behind”, we open the show explaining the basics of what a reverse mortgage actually is and how it works.  They sound simple, but when you have bankers, lawyers and politicians involved, simple goes out the window!  Plus, today’s products aren’t your parents’ reverse mortgages – well, actually they may be (depending on how old your parents are), but the point is that the product has changed a lot since it was first introduced.  Mark Soto brings us up to speed on the state of the art.

Mark explains who qualifies and the various options for getting cash, cash flow or credit. One very important discussion topic is the role of FHA insurance. We also take the time to deal with several of the many misconceptions about reverse mortgages and how this product fits into our “new” economic landscape.

The Real Estate Guys really enjoyed the real life stories Mark shares about how his clients have used reverse mortgages creatively.  As real estate investors, we’re most interested in how to use any tool in our toolbox to make a profit, improve cash flow, avoid taxes and protect assets. We wrap the show up by delving into these hot topics.

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Are We Going to Lose our Fannie?

Sorry.  Can’t help all the Fannie puns.  They’re just too good not to use.

Today the Associated Press published a report “Fannie Mae seeks $15 Billion in US Aid after 3Q Loss”.   In case you’re keeping score, Fannie and her brother Freddie Mac have gobbled up about $111,000,000,000 ( we showed you all the zeroes for dramatic effect) in the last 14 months since regulators seized them.

“So what?” you may ask.  “I’m just a small time investor trying to find a property that will cash flow.”  Great!  You’re in luck because there’s lots of those out there right now.  That’s one of the big benefits of this recession.  Great properties are on sale.

But when you read the AP article, you’ll see they quoted “Fannie Mae” herself as saying, “There is significant uncertainty regarding the future of our business, including whether we will continue to exist, and we expect this uncertainty to continue.”

Wow! Where did THAT come from?  We went digging and found it actually came from page 20 of the 10-Q (you’re welcome…sorry, another stupid pun) Fannie filed with the SEC.  You can find it on Fannie’s web site.  It’s 241 pages.  In case you don’t know, companies issue press releases and say how wonderful everything is, then they file the 10-Q with the SEC in which they need to be much more straight forward.

You may recall it wasn’t too long ago that the now-former Fannie Mae executive team was telling us, “Liquidity problem? What liquidity problem?”  Obviously, Fannie Mae is in trouble today.

Again, so what?

Remember, appreciation is a product of supply, demand and capacity to pay.  In terms of housing in the US, we have builders slowing way down while our population continues to grow.  Last time we looked, people like to sleep under a roof, so we’re guessing that demand is persistent and growing.  The big monkey wrench is capacity to pay.  People without jobs don’t have much capacity to pay.  People whose credit was ruined while they were out of work or who decided to sacrifice their credit to get out of a bad loan can’t really borrow right now.  For the remainder of buyers, Congress is extending a first time home buyer’s tax credit.  Somewhat helpful, but not the big horse that’s been pulling the cart down the road.

As we’ve been commenting on for some time, most of the lending going on is through Fannie, Freddie and FHA.  To the extent that there is capacity to pay in the market right now, it is largely propped up by these three.  If they go away, then what?

In the short term, prices would likely drop. Why?  Less loans mean less buyers.  Duh. In the long term, new players would step in to fill the void.  How do we know?  In a capitalistic society, no problem lingers in the market place for too long before some “greedy” entrepreneur figures out how to solve it for a fee.  Ironically, the thing that keeps many of these “saviors” on the sidelines is they don’t want to compete with the government, who seems to take pride in driving the profit out of everything to “help” people, right up until the private sector collapses.

Oops. Our opinion is showing.

You don’t have to agree.  This isn’t even a matter of how it should be.  It’s simply a matter of how it is and what are you going to do about it.

For now, prices are good relative to cash flows.  Loans are cheap and readily available if you (or your investment partners) have good credit and documentable income.   We think the argument could be made it would be a good time to buy, but plan to hold for 10 years or more .  Remember, the key to control is cash flow.

If Fannie  goes away, we’ll wish we got those good loans when they were here.  An investor can never get enough cheap money.

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Hey, FHA! Your Fannie is Showing

Today,  The New York Times ran a story headlined Concerns Are Growing About FHA’s Stability.  Hmmm…that’s interesting.  Especially since a major chunk of the loans funding the fledgling housing recovery is coming from FHA.

Caution: This is a long post.  BUT, if you stick with it, it’s not just food for thought.  There are some practical tips, so power on!

Back when sub-prime collapsed, we were hanging out with a lot of the top dogs in the mortgage business and the mantra was “FHA is the new sub-prime!”  Wow. Be careful what you wish for.

So the mortgage industry re-tooled.  It took some time, but eventually the industry got good at FHA and went out and sold it silly.  Only 3% down!  Cheap rates!  Go! Go! Go!  And there’s NOTHING wrong with that.  It’s their job.  Just like it was when the private sector made cheap and easy money available.  Wonder if the evil mortgage brokers will get blamed if FHA goes down?  But we digress….

What? Me Worry?

The NY Times article says that FHA Commissioner David H. Stevens “assured” lawmakers that FHA would NOT need a bailout and was “taking steps” to manage its risks.

Two things.  First, let’s take a trip down memory lane.  For old times’ sake, we cracked open The Real Estate Archives and found a Wall Street Journal article dated 6/7/08 in which they reported that Freddie Mac’s then CEO Richard Syron said Freddie’s financial results for 2008 will be better than last year’s.  This was part of a conference call to investors where he assured stockholders, “We are quite confident that the positive changes will offset the negative.”  What fire?

A month later, a 7/8/08  CNBC.com article quoted James Lockhart, the Director of OFHEO (not a cookie – Office of Fair Housing Enterprise Oversight – you know, the folks that watch your Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac).   CNBC interviewed Lockhart and he said, “Both of these companies [Fannie and Freddie] are adequately capitalized.”

Just in case you didn’t believe Mr. Lockhart, MarketWatch reported on 7/10/08 (2 days later for those keeping track) that then Treasury Secretary Mr. Henry Paulson “moved swiftly…to defend Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from critics who have called them insolvent” while testilying to the House Finance Committee.

Sorry, we know this is a blog post, not an encyclopedia, but there’s so much good stuff here.

On 7/22/09 (yes, that would be 12 days later), the Associated Press ran a headline “Congressional Analysts Peg Cost of Propping Up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as high as $25 Billion”.  That’s a lot of money, but as we’ll soon find out, if it was ONLY $25 billion, it would be cause to party (not that we need much of an excuse). 😉

In an interesting aside, the same AP article said Republican Senator Jim Bunning (KY) criticized Republican administration official Henry Paulson (yep, the same Henry Paulson) for “trying to ‘ram down’ his proposal to shore up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which Bunning said ‘smacks of socialism'”.  We tossed this side note in just in case you thought the Obama Administration were the only ones being called Socialists.

Anyway, back to Fannie and Freddie….

On July 27, 2009 (we were in Belize that day…it was fun), CNN Money reported “Efforts to use the troubled mortgage finance firms to fix housing market problems are likely to push the taxpayer bill for Fannie & Freddie above $100 billion.”  That’s slightly more than the originally projected $25 billion, in case you were getting dizzy.

The same CNN Money article went on to say that Fannie has actually received $34.2 billion and Freddie $51.7 billion.  Also, considerably more than $25 billion, but who’s counting?

Okay, so that was a long trip down memory lane.  But the points are:

a) when the head guys say “don’t worry”, worry – or at least take a peak behind the curtain;

b) the politicians will pay almost ANY price to save housing. Why? Because voters live in houses. This pressure, like it or not, helps protect real estate values;

c) history provides perspectives you don’t get if you only live in the current headlines.  That’s why The Real Estate Guys keep archives.

That concludes “thing #1”. Wait!  Don’t quit yet. Thing #2 will be much shorter!

Thing #2:  When the head FHA guys says, “We’re taking steps to manage risks”, it could mean tighter money: things like stiffer guidelines, lower limits – you know, the things that slow down a recovery.

For example, the FHA’s very popular Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) – the only insured reverse mortgage – has been widely reported as getting a “haircut”.   That means lower loan limits.  We’ll talk more about that on another day, but it makes you wonder what else FHA might do to “manage” its risks.  We’ll be watching….

So, what’s the takeway from today’s post?

Track what happens with FHA.   Like an over extended teenage shopper, who runs up one credit card and then moves onto the next, our policymakers have run up the tab on Fannie, Freddie, and now possibly FHA.  When all the cards are maxed, they call Mom and Dad.  In this metaphor, that’s you – the American taxpayer.  But you don’t have any money either, so they’ll get it by taking out new credit cards (in your name) from the Chinese or whoever has money, and then pledge the fruits of your future labors (and those of children and grandchildren) to make the payments.

We’re not saying Uncle Sam and his minions shouldn’t help housing, nor are we saying they should.  But it’s safe to say they will.  And when they do, HOW they do it will affect the values of YOUR properties, the interest rates and availability of YOUR loans, the jobs and salaries available to YOUR tenants, the size of YOUR taxes, and the value of YOUR dollar.

In all of this change, are many problems and many opportunities.  But don’t worry!  Work. Study. Learn. Watch. And when you see the opportunity, take action while others hesitate.

And keep listening to The Real Estate Guys – we’ll help keep you thinking!