Qustion. I often see advertisements offering "all cash for your house or condo." Some of these ads offer to give monthly payments for equity. What type of guarantee is the seller offered so as to insure that he/she gets the full amount. Suppose the company goes bankrupt? How can these companies offer such benefits as "three times your equity"? Your response would be helpful.
Answer. The moral of this column can best be summed up with the old adage "caveat emptor -- let the buyer beware."
As with any transactions among strangers, most are legitimate, but many are fraught with problems, including fraud. You have sent me a newspaper clipping, whereby a promoter offers to buy any house -- often sight unseen -- and pay the seller on a monthly basis any equity that exists in the house.
At first blush, this may be a good deal. You -- as seller -- will be able to sell your house, and take payments on an installment basis. If you will make a profit on the sale, and cannot take advantage of the up-to-$500,000 exclusion of gain rules, the installment method will enable you to defer full payment of the capital gains tax until you are paid in full on your equity.
Furthermore, by selling your house, you will be relieved of any obligations to pay your outstanding mortgage as well as the real estate taxes.
But this is theory; in practice, there can be many problems.
Let us look at some of the possible pitfalls:
1. Buyer goes into bankruptcy. You raise the question of the possible bankruptcy of the purchaser. If the proper protections are taken at the time of settlement, the filing of bankruptcy will create a delay, but should not pose a major problem for you. If you take back a first deed of trust from your buyer for the amount of the equity you are lending, and if this deed of trust (mortgage) is properly recorded in the land records where your property is located, you will be a secured creditor. In the worst case, you will ultimately get the house back.
But, if you already have a first mortgage on the property, and your buyer does not pay that off in full, you will only be able to obtain a second trust from your buyer. In this second-place position, you will be at greater risk. If the buyer does not pay you, I suspect the buyer will also not pay the first trust lender. The first trust lender can foreclose on the property and your second deed of trust may be wiped out.
2. Due on Sale clause. Most mortgages contain what is known as a "due on sale" clause. This means that upon the sale of your property to a third party, your existing lender can call the entire unpaid balance of the mortgage due. While lenders do not often assert these clauses, the possibility remains. This is too great a risk, and I cannot recommend that you enter into such a sale without first obtaining your lender's approval of the transaction.
3. Additional encumbrances. Even if you own your home free and clear, there is nothing to stop your buyer from taking out a new mortgage on "your" home after settlement. If that new lender does not receive the monthly payments on time, it can foreclose. This can cause you a lot of aggravation, as well as uncertainly and legal fees.
4. Financial status of your buyer. Before entering into this kind of transaction, you must learn more about your buyer. Are there any tax liens against the buyer that could become a super-priority lien ahead of your deed of trust? Is your buyer judgment-proof -- i.e., you will not receive any money even after you successfully obtain a court judgment.
5. Sales Price. What price are you willing to accept from this buyer? Clearly, that buyer is not a charitable organization; there is a profit motive behind the transaction. Why should this buyer offer you market price for your house, since when the house is ultimately resold, your buyer will not make any profit.
6. Guarantees. You ask what guarantees your buyer can give that you will ultimately receive payment in full. The short answer is none. Unless your buyer pays you all cash, you face a serious risk -- on a monthly basis -- that you may not get paid in full. After all, you are dealing with a stranger -- and one who presumably is in the business of buying and selling houses. If there are any tricks -- and if the buyer is not completely reputable -- they will use every trick in the book to take advantage of you.
My bottom line is to stay away from these types of transactions. While they appear attractive, there are too many pitfalls.
If you are desperate -- and still want to go ahead with such a transaction -- please consult your legal and tax advisors before signing anything.