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As If We Weren't In Enough Trouble Already?

Slick Salesman

We all know the real estate market is in a mess right now, and most of it is really our fault. Too many people took on mortgages they never should have. But it’s not just the borrowers that are guilty, the lenders need to take their share of the blame. Obviously everyone should know when they’re over-extending ourselves, but in obvious situations many lenders still encouraged people to get mortgages. They often helped them get financing through more creative ways, such as loan/mortgage applications that didn’t require any proof of employment, interest only payments, 105% financing, and so on. I won’t even mention mortgages that required high and consistent capital appreciation just to be sustainable.

As part of this mess, many different sales techniques were used. A very common technique was focusing on how much mortgage you CAN afford per month (not how much you SHOULD afford per month). What this means is that instead of looking at the total purchase price, you focus on the monthly payments. By doing this, especially when interest rates are incredibly low, you end up buying properties that in any normal time is well above what you can afford. Which also means that when interest rates go back up, which they will, you’re in a lot of trouble!

Again, the benefit of this selling technique is that you can take the focus away from the real price and look at what you can spend each month. This gives the seller a lot of leeway in the price (not to mention it helps increase commissions).  As an example, adding $2000-$5000 on a $500,000 mortgage amortized over 30 years (at our current historically low interest rates) barely changes the monthly total ($9/month and $22/month respectively)! Even adding $20,000 isn’t that big a deal. At 3.5%, $20,000 barely adds $90/month more. $90/month more on a $2500/month mortgage is not a big difference.

But, getting back to the reason for this post, is that lenders have now come up with a new method of rationalizing why you should purchase overpriced properties, or at least a method that I haven’t personally seen yet. Here’s the exert from Tales From the Real Estate Wars:

“Now’s the time to move up to a larger house and eradicate any loss on your present house!  How, you say?  Come a little closer and I’ll explain:  If you bought a house for $350,000 and it is now worth only $280,000 (20% less), you have only “lost” $70,000 if you sit still and do nothing.  But if you buy that really big house in the nicer community that used to be worth $550,000 and is now also 20% lower, the moment you close on that house at $440,000, you’ve gained $40,000 ($110,000-70,000).  And hey, that’s before you get the $6,500 tax credit! Plus, have you seen how low the interest rates are?”

It’s really perverse logic, but at the same time I can see how people can fall prey to it. They’re focusing on people’s loss aversion fears which is a very strong emotion!

Do you see the flaw in the logic?



 
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