Pitfalls and Promise: Alternative Financing

By Robert L. Cain, Copyright 2022, Cain Publications, Inc.

“There’s a sucker born every minute,” PT Barnum didn’t say it, and we might be suckers for believing that he did say it. Ryo Mac wrote, “It seems that everyone believes things a little too eagerly, especially if they want to believe it.”  It was likely a banker named David Hannum from Syracuse, New York who actually said it.

The fact that it most likely came from the mouth of a banker provides us an entirely new slant on suckers considering that financial “experts” fool people far more often and more destructively than any circus impresario ever could. 

Some people seem immune from suckerdom. When they try something, they think it through to avoid potential problems. They think critically. People who will fall for about anything lack critical thinking ability, lack financial savvy, lack self-control, and lack the ability to see consequences and alternatives. A black cloud follows them around ready to rain on them every time they try to do anything to help themselves.

People who lack critical thinking often intone the mantra “it’s not fair,” but reflects the fact that they make little or no effort or ability to counteract unfairness. They blame bad luck rather than their own bad decisions and lack of common sense.

One of the biggest financial hits can come when buying property. The Pew Charitable Trusts studied alternative financing, one way suckers can get fooled, and reported that one in five people have at some time used alternative financing and one in fifteen, about 7 million US adults, are using it as you read this. Alternative financing includes land sale contracts, lease-purchase agreements, personal property loans, and seller-financed mortgages. Alternative financing can be an excellent way to finance property. But financial peril lurks for the unwary.

Science News explained in its August 24, 2018, issue. “Nearly a third of young adults in a recent study were found to be ‘financially precarious’ because they had poor financial literacy and lacked money management skills and income stability.” The dream of homeownership is just that for many of them until the opportunity arises for them to buy a property using financing other than from a bank or mortgage lender.

Alternative financing may be their only chance ever to buy a home. Their credit is in the cellar, they owe thousands in credit card debt, they have financed cars beyond their abilities to pay, and get trapped in low-paying jobs. Eluding them are the toys and trinkets of people who have college degrees, well-paying jobs, and critical thinking ability. “It’s not fair those people have them and I don’t,” they say.  Life isn’t fair, but putting oneself in crushing debt won’t make it fairer. What will give them a leg up is growing the ability to think critically, to be able to say “what if” to protect themselves the same way the people who don’t get fooled do.

It may simply be beyond their capabilities to spot a bad deal. They “aren’t good at math,” they believe experts, they get their information from TV news, which tends to reinforce the “not fair” scenarios, and they tend to believe people who, they believe, are smarter than they are. Chances are they aren’t any smarter, just more practiced at the art of deception. The fooled can’t afford or don’t even think to use a lawyer to look at the contract.

Most of the time nothing untoward happens using alternative financing to buy a home. But sometimes it does and usually for the same reason: they don’t read and understand well. The legalese is beyond their reading capabilities and thus the ramifications of agreements they sign. They may believe the people who drew up the contract who tell them what it all means. A vicious circle, they have poor credit, low-paying jobs, lack of financial education, and poor reading and math skills. Bad guys put their feet on their desks offering to “make them a deal.” The suckers born every minute.

They may be stuck buying low-end properties using alternative financing because it’s not worth it for conventional lenders to loan less than a specific amount, maybe $125,000, or on properties with habitability issues such as utility connections, unfinished kitchens and bathrooms, and manufactured homes sitting on rented land.

How do alternative financing contracts backfire? A few get caught in a trap written into the contract of sale that puts them at a disadvantage. For example, the law varying by state, bank-loaned mortgages carry legal requirements. Not so with alternative financing mortgages. Strict legal procedures require that bank-loaned mortgage require some four months to foreclose if the buyer can’t or doesn’t pay. The lender of a seller-financed property might foreclose in a month. Buyer doesn’t pay, seller forecloses and boots the buyer out, who loses everything he or she put into the property, all the principal and interest payments, all the improvements, and the down payment. But a buyer would also lose all that with a bank-financed mortgage. It just takes longer and the buyer may be able to sell the property before the sheriff comes to evict. With alternative financing, good luck. When the 30 days are up, the buyer is out, losing all rights to the property.

Manufactured housing presents another quandary. If the house is in a park and the manufactured housing owner rents the space, no conventional lender will touch it and the buyer must get a personal property loan. Conventional mortgage lenders loan only on fee simple property, that is, property where the buyer also owns the land where the housing sits. Say the park owner sells and the new owner triples the space rent. The buyer can’t pay the higher rent amount, can’t afford to move the house because of the major expense, find another place to put it, and loses everything just as with seller financing. Plus, the personal property loan remains owing. The park owner might offer to pay off the loan for the current balance owed, or the manufactured home buyer might simply default, destroying any credit he or she might have had.

Do alternative financing buyers know any of this? Do they think, as the lender promises, this is standard procedure? There is no such thing as “standard procedure” in a real estate contract.

With little or no financial savvy and critical thinking ability, they simply don’t know how the world works. The result is they are in constant financial trouble. They may be resentful of anyone doing better than they are. They often have collections and bankruptcies.

Written for Zip Reports where they do employment and rental screening.

Contact Robert L. Cain at bob@cainpublications.com

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