Sunday, December 30, 2012

Our Loss: Short Sales and Mortgage Interest...

It seems to me that the public is not appropriately upset about the looming Fiscal Cliff.  Even if Congress can come to some last-minute resolution-- you can be sure that there will be areas they will overlook, and programs they don’t extend by mistake or on purpose.  Witness the impending impact on short sales, even our local Board of Realtors sent out a message on this topic--so in a nutshell, here’s the conversation topic of the week: 

Starting Tuesday there is no longer a benefit to a short sale. No matter what the final outcome may be regarding the fiscal cliff, no deal has been struck that will extend the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007 (MFDRA).  This legislation provided tax forgiveness for short sales (that were the borrowers primary residence as well as additional requirements such as time they owned the property).

The whole reason for a short sale was that people who were “underwater” in their homes, with the approval of their bank, could sell the property for less than they owe, and the bank would forgive the debt AND because of the MFDRA the IRS would forgive the debt as well.  With the expiration of this Act, the amount a bank forgives would become taxable to the seller.  So be awarew starting Jan 1st, all short sales will have additional tax consequences until and unless Congress passes some kind of extension

The Administration is trying to find new streams of income—so they can keep spending at the new higher rate--and is reconsidering many of the things Americans have traditionally considered sacred.  Everything is on the table.

And so what about the mortgage interest tax credit?  We are all afraid of the loss of this credit, though not everyone seems to fully grasp what losing this credit might mean beyond what it might cost them personally.
The ability to deduct the mortgage interest paid to a lender for the use of their money has become a fundamental economic benefit to homeownership for tens of millions of Americans.  And just to be fair about it, the Banks have to classify these interest payments as income, and they pay tax on it too. Wouldn’t this be a double tax?

Will the loss of the mortgage interest tax deduction actually affect the health of the housing market? That really depends on how deeply the government decides to cut. If the tax credit is eliminated entirely, the impact on the real estate market could be devastating. Right now, the “move up” market is weak, and people who benefit from the tax credit comprise a good portion of that market.

Eliminating the financial benefits of the tax credit, combined with other tax hikes likely to be imposed on “wealthy” families could drive some potential homebuyers out of the market completely. To be sure, not all homeowners even take the credit, (to get it you have to itemize your return) but without the credit, home prices may well fall, or at least not increase, which will have an effect on pricing throughout the housing ecosystem, depressing prices just when our market is finally beginning to recover from a multi-year downward cycle.

At very least it seems likely the Administration will demand limits on what can be deducted, as well as more stringent regulations on what properties and loans a borrower can claim interest credit against. If these changes are significant, no doubt we’ll experience some softening in the market, likely reversing the growth in economy as a whole. After all, a weakened housing market will contribute to adverse conditions in related markets such as construction, building materials, home appliances and the like.

So even if Monday’s emergency convening of Congress is successful and we don’t go fall over the fiscal cliff, the devil is in the details.  Eliminating some of the benefits of home ownership burdens the middle class in a way that can only hurt the real estate market. Considering that it’s been the housing market that’s pulled the U.S. out of virtually every recession since World War II, it seems like we should be shifting our focus to stimulating it in any way we can rather than doing anything that might knock it down.

Dane Hahn is a real estate professional practicing in  the tri-county area. (Charlotte, Sarasota and Manatee.) . You can reach him at 941-681-0312, or at See him on the web at

Note: Starting Tuesday, anyone considering a short sale should speak to an appropriate professional regarding all tax implications of a short sale.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Foreign Investors Have Cash

I was pleased to attend a breakfast this past week in which Michael Saunders was the invited speaker. This was a businessman’s meeting and Mrs. Saunders was speaking on the economy and real estate in general throughout the SW Florida area. She was not recruiting, she was not in her training mode, she was simply reporting what she sees as the immediate future issues and successes that we might experience right here.

First the good news, of which there seems to be quite a bit. Houses are selling again, prices are turning around (heading up), and the number of sales is increasing as well. She was mixing new homes with used inventory in her remarks, but because there are many more existing homes than brand new stock, the trend is good for new sales as well as resales. And the buyers have cash. About 80% of the sales we have seen over the last month were for cash.

The banks—who would normally have been lending for all these sales—are busy with refinancing existing homes for folks who have decided to stay put, but would like some of that 3.5% loan money.
It's pretty hard to ignore the opportunity to refi a home at 3.5%, especially when headlines about worldwide inflation are only a few months off, and when inflation is at 3.5% (which it no doubt will be by March or April) then your mortgage is free. Back in the day, when the inflation rate hit 6-7% and President Ford was wearing a WIN button (Wip Inflation Now) the mortgage rates were at 18%. So you can see that the Federal Reserve is holding down rates that would naturally be on the upswing.

But there was some bad news too. And I don't mean the so-called “shadow inventory”--which are the homes still owned by the banks that are vacant and will one day flood the market. That dirty little secret is still to be dealt with. No, the bad news is that foreigners are lurking out there ready to eat your lunch.

Economic and political uncertainty around the globe are benefiting real estate in the United States, especially in Miami and New York, the two “safe haven” American cities foreign investors usually look to first. Florida's real estate market is certainly no stranger to capital flight from Latin America. But the velocity at which some Argentines are investing in Miami real estate has shocked some brokers here. In the past few months, Argentines have quietly passed Brazilians to become the most active group from Latin America buying Miami real estate. Argentines are buying foreign properties not only to park their savings but also to make extra income through rentals. Argentines don’t want any more Argentine risk. So they are willing to risk their savings on Miami real estate instead. But Miami is Miami, what about us?

Mrs. Saunders related that she had a call last week from a working acquaintance of hers who owned one of the largest real estate offices in Paris, France. He left a phone message saying he was coming to Sarasota to look at property—which was good news for the Saunders Agency. But when he arrived, it turned out he wasn't looking at the million dollar properties up and down the Keys—as Saunders had suspected. He wanted to buy 150 homes under $150,000 for a syndicate of Parisians who wanted to invest in Florida real estate—and the had cash.

All this sounds fine, and is good news for sellers (albeit, most of the sellers for this batch will be banks of hold-over short sales), but in fact this is bad news for the “little guy” who wanted to pick up a piece of paradise for a few dollars under the old prices, so it's no wonder when I take my clients out to see homes throughout Sarasota and Charlotte Counties, there's not much left in their price range—the inventory has gotten thin.

And what is the Franco-American plan for the 150 homes? To rent them of course. The steps the syndicate is taking is to 1. Buy up the stock. 2. Fix them up so they can be rented. 3. Rent them for 5 years. 4. Resell them. Sounds like the late-night TV pitchmen who sell you a system on how to get rich in real estate.

Dane Hahn is a real estate professional serving clients in Sarasota and Charlotte County. You can reach him at 941-681-0312 or by email at: See him on the web at

Saturday, December 15, 2012

You Make Money When You Buy

Leverage in Real Estate investing is the use of borrowed money to increase your profits in an investment. Just a quick recap before I get into the caveats that you need to know to keep your investment sound. Remember I said that if you had $100,000 to invest and you purchased a small income property for $100,000. which had an appreciation at an average of 7% per year. At the end of the first year of operation, your property would be worth $107,000. That's a better return than a savings account, but if you had leveraged your investment by putting your $100,000 down on a $500,000 income property, at the end of the first year, it would be worth $535,000. So which is the better investment? The one that returns $7,000 or $35,000? Using leverage in your real estate investments can have a big effect on your financial statement.

Rule One--Put the minimum down on a good property, find one which has a strong likelihood of appreciating in value. Stay away from questionable properties in run down areas. If you use leverage to your advantage, it will make you wealthy.

Rule One A—Negotiate.  You make money in real estate when you buy not when you sell. I've written this before, but it's worth saying again. You can't sell a property for more than it's worth, but you can buy one for less than it's worth. Always always remember you make your money when you buy.

Rule Two—Positive cash flow is everything. Properties must produce positive cash flow each year and over time should grow in value. If you over-leverage (take out too large a loan) your properties, you risk losing them. Remember, properties are like race horses, they can make you a lot of money but they require care and feeding and come with expenses. Taking out too big of a loan on your property means your monthly expenses may be more than the property can support. We live in the “now” not in the future. The key is a positive cash flow now. The second key is the resale value—but that’s in the future.

Rule Three—Focus on your returns. Investment real estate is valued (when it comes time to borrow against it or to resell) by the income that a property generates after subtracting out expenses. So, if you can raise the income or lower the expenses, or both you will make more money now AND raise the future value of the property.

Depending on the property, this management technique can increase the value of your investment by double digit multiples. Small changes to the performance of the property over time can make you huge amounts of money.

Rule Four—More is better. Just as multiple properties are better than one property, multiple tenants are better than one tenant. Unless you own single use building like a gas station, multiple tenants allow you get past bad months so your vacancy rate can be kept low. Nobody wants to own a huge vacant building. So there is wisdom in owning an multi-units like an apartment complex, an office building, or retail center. Ideally you will always have some tenants, your expenses are likely to increase a bit over time but you can maximize your return by making small cost of living or inflationary adjustments across multiple tenants. A small increases in rent, when applied across multiple tenants, can add up to big results.

If you own a 10 unit apartment house and raise each rent $25 per month, you actually create $3,000 annually in extra income. By making small adjustments across multiple tenants it can increase your investment dramatically.

Rule Five—You can get rich slowly. But forget trying to get rich quick. Investing is not for the faint of heart nor for the impatient. Being a landlord comes with tenants—and they're not all nice. Investing comes with bills, and you will do yourself a favor to pay them on time. And speaking about time, investing and managing real estate takes time. You will find yourself investing weekends in fix-ups and repairs, and more. But in the end, it must be worth your efforts.

Rule Six—Save your emotions for your spouse. If a property is not producing, if you can't keep tenants, if you have bought a property you can't manage: sell it. Don't keep a property just because you got a great buy or one day it might start to generate a positive cash flow. If it's time to get out of the real estate investment business, come to grips with that before your investments are no longer being managed properly. When it's no fun anymore, get out.

Rule Seven-It's OK to let others do it for you. There are many ways to profit from real estate investments without the hands-on daily management issues. But just one is the FTSE NAREIT Mortgage REITs Index Fund (REM). This ETF follows an index that measures the performance of the residential and commercial real estate, mortgage finance, and savings associations sectors of the U.S. equity market, allowing investors to get exposure to both the front and back end of real estate. With a portfolio of 30 mostly medium sized firms, and with a YTD return of 26.06%, REM also boasts a handsome annual dividend yield of 11.88%

Dane Hahn is a real estate professional serving Sarasota and Charlotte Counties. Reach him at or by phone at 941-681-0312.  See him on the web at

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Investing 101, Using Leverage in Real Estate

Because the market is on the rebound as I write this, I wanted to say a few words about “leverage” in real estate. In a nutshell, leverage is using other people's money to buy property, and why using leverage in real estate can generate significant returns, with only a modicum of risk.

Maybe you recall what a lever is from grammar school math class. It's been a long time since I sat in Miss Alberta’s class in Ridgewood, NJ, but still, when I think of a lever I visualize a worker moving a huge rock using a long pole and wedging that pole against a fulcrum so he can make the big rock move. If you remember that scenario, the key is the length of the pole. I think it was Archimedes who said, “with a long enough pole, I could move the earth.” In real estate, the key is a low mortgage rate.

So how does elementary math and the concept of leverage translate to real estate? Well, let's say you have $100,000 in cash and you decide to invest in a house that costs $100,000. After 5 years passes, you sell the house for $125,000. In this very simple example (no fix-up, no taxes or carrying costs) you have made $5,000 per year, and invested $100,000. Congratulations, you made 5% on your money. It's a better return than a savings account, (but comes with more risk).

OK, now suppose you bought that same house for $100,000, but you only had half of the money it would cost to buy the home. You put down $50,000 and borrowed $50,000. Now at the end of those same five years, when you sell the house for $125,000, and pay the loan off, you will have your $50,000 back and the difference of $25,000 as earnings. That's still $5,000 a year, but you only needed $50,000 to make it happen, so your return on investment (ROI) is 10% a year. (A much better return than a savings account, but again, this example leaves out the expenses of operating the property and servicing the loan.)

Now in a more real world example. You buy the house for $100,000, and apply for a simple mortgage. The mortgage company's loan to value (LTV) is 80%, meaning you can get the money to buy the house with only 20% down. Now at the end of your five year ownership, when you sell the property for $125,000, you have “made” $25,000 on an investment of $20,000. That's $5,000 per year on $20,000 invested, or 25% per year on your money. (Can you do this? Yes, it happens everyday in every state in America).

What if the Federal Government wanted you to make a buck? Consider this, the HomePath program offered by Fannie Mae offers foreclosed homes directly to qualified buyers. This special program allows you to qualify with only 3% down payment and can even give you up to $35,000 back to fix up your home. And better yet, it can be an investment property—as opposed to many federal programs which only are available if you live in the home. I won't kid you, you need a good credit score to get the 3% loan, but if you qualify, it's a great program.

Using the HomePath program, if you buy the home for $100,000, using your 3% and Fannie Mae's 97%, and you sell in 5 years for $125,000. You will realize the $25,000 gain having “risked or invested” only $3,000 of your own money. Now your ROI is 166% per year. In truth, it's not going to be that high because you'll have taxes, insurance, principle and interest to pay each year, but you can see what leverage can do.

And since you only used $3,000 of your $100,000 to make this investment, you have $97,000 still to invest. I would suggest you consider owning more than one house at a time.

Are there risks? Yes, but an investor, who manages his properties will not allow risks to get out of control. He will not allow the properties to deteriorate, and will buy and sell without emotion. Not every property will be a “home run”, but enough will be so that a simple portfolio of 4 or 5 houses, or multifamily homes will produce a good rental income year in and year out, and go a long way to augmenting a retirement plan. And in all my examples, the risk is the same, just the return changes—so the smart investor, (1) buys with as little of his own money as possible, and (2) spreads the risk over multiple properties.

Years ago, on late night TV, there were hucksters flacking “no money down real estate programs” where average folks became very rich, seemingly overnight. Nerds had huge boats, Rolex watches and beautiful girlfriends. That doesn't happen very often. If you're honest, don't plan to get rich quick. But you can get rich slowly. I see it everyday.

Dane Hahn is a real estate professional practicing in Florida and New Hampshire. You can reach him at 941-681-0312 or at See him on the web at

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Dodd-Frank stings the Real Estate Market

The fiscal cliff notwithstanding, there are a number of financial issues that have the potential to sink the housing market—just when we have begun to see light at the end of the tunnel. Most of us have heard of the Dodd-Frank Act designed to mandate Wall Street reform, but the media has not spent much ink on the pending rulings on mortgage origination requirements also mandated by the Dodd-Frank.

For one, ponder the eventual fates of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, now in their fourth year of conservatorship. And for another, consider the Federal Reserve’s recently proposed Basel III capital standards program, which have the potential to deliver a crushing blow to both REALTORS® and consumers in today’s still-fragile housing recovery.

Basel III is an international regulatory standard on bank capital adequacy, stress testing and market liquidity developed in Europe by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision in 2010. Basel III was developed in response to the deficiencies in financial regulation revealed by the recent financial crisis. Basel III strengthens bank capital requirements and introduces new regulatory requirements on bank liquidity and bank leverage.

All this sounds good, but the European Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates that the implementation of Basel III will decrease annual GDP growth by 0.05–0.15%. Another smack in the face that won't help our economy. Critics suggest that Basel III requirements will also increase the incentives of banks to game the regulatory framework, which could further negatively affect the stability of the financial system.

Taken together, the outcomes of Qualified Mortgage (QM), Qualified Residential Mortgage (QRM) and Basel III rulings now under consideration would likely shut down the mortgage finance market to a good number of home buyers, and would vastly change the home ownership landscape.

Ken Trepeta the National Association of REALTORS (NAR) Real Estate Services Director Ken says “If the ability-to-repay rules of QM are written too narrowly, it will tighten credit even more for all but the most credit-worthy buyers. As for QRM, if the rule requires a minimum down payment of 20 percent, much of the first-time buyer market outside of FHA would simply disappear.”

Among the most worrisome proposed Basel III standards are detailed risk-weighting requirements that would force banks to hold more capital for all but the most conservative loans, making almost all loans more costly for consumers as well as harder to get. “If regulators do the wrong thing on any one of these issues,” he said, “the result could be a ticking time bomb for the housing recovery we are just beginning to see. Even if regulators get it right,” Trepeta warned, “credit overall will likely be tighter. If they botch it, it could be disastrous.”

NAR has both vigorously opposed any changes that would limit or undermine the current Mortgage Interest Deduction, and has also been working closely with the House Financial Services Committee and the Senate Banking Committee for two years to ensure that Wall Street reform legislation does not adversely affect REALTORS® or consumers. But the Mortgage Interest Deduction may soon be a thing of the past.

In a July 2011 letter to Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, then NAR President Ron Phipps wrote, ”regulation of the mortgage lending industry is becoming so complex that it threatens to weaken the system instead of curing abuses,“ and that the lending industry and regulators ”have over-corrected in response to abuses that occurred in the middle of the last decade.“

The letter calls on the credit and lending industries and Federal regulators to reassess the entire credit structure and look for ways to increase the availability of credit to qualified borrowers who are good credit risks.

In September, 2012, NAR President Moe Veissi sent a follow-up letter to Bernanke on behalf of the Realtors and the American people, once again warning of the potential effects of these unresolved issues. The hope is Berrnanke would be able to preserve this widely used deduction, and influence the rule-makers. Authority for the rule-making lies with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which has until Jan. 21, 2013 to issue the final ability-to-repay/QM regulations, to take effect 12 months later.

Dane Hahn is a real estate professional practicing in Charlotte and Sarasota Counties. You can reach him at 941-681-0312, or at See him on the web at