Seller Financing is BAD – Right?

For the purposes of our discussion, suppose that a house sells for $150K and the seller takes back $100K as a mortgage as part of the sale (the buyer pays the other $50K as cash to keep this simple). The Seller owned this property free and clear – or owed less than the net cash received. Say the note has an interest rate of 6%, interest only payments (or more), with a balloon payment of the outstanding balance in 15 years. This makes the payments equal $500 per month – assuming only the interest is paid.

Seller – The Good:
The Seller can reduce the amount of tax they pay on the sale. When the Seller ‘takes back paper’ at the sale, that part of the equity of the house is not counted towards their capital gain. As payments come in over time, the principal received in each tax period is considered a capital gain for that tax period. Since our note is interest only payments, the $100K capital gain will be deferred for 15 years. This means that a seller can lower the tax they would need to pay for the house sale – both immediately and possibly as a total over time.

The seller gains an income stream from the note. For the next 15 years, the Seller will have $500 each month to spend – minus ordinary income tax (which will depend on the Sellers financial situation). The Seller actually makes more money for the sale of the house. The total amount this Seller earns is $150K + 15 years * $6000/yr = $240K.

As an investor Seller, this kind of financing can help you stabilize your income stream and result in better returns on your initial investment. Also, by offering seller financing, you may be able to demand a higher sales price at the time of the sale.

Seller – The Bad:
The Seller is still ‘attached’ to the house for the length of time that the note is collateralized by the house. This can be bad if the quality of the house is suspect, or the neighborhood value is declining – as the house decays or the defects are discovered, the security for the note (the house) looses value. This can be countered by requiring a larger down payment, charging a higher interest rate or doing more qualifying of the Buyer. For example, a Buyer who lives in the property is generally more likely to maintain or improve the property while a non-occupying Buyer may not have the same incentive to maintain the property (and the renter likely has no incentive at all).

The Seller may not receive payments on time. Ultimately, the Seller can solve this by foreclosing – which is a process defined by the area where the house is located. For example, in Washington the foreclosure process takes about 4 months while in Oklahoma it averages about 7 months. During this time, the Seller will not receive payments and the house may be vacant or damaged. Again, the Seller can mitigate some of these risks by requiring larger down payments or charging higher interest rates. In our example, the $50K down payment can mitigate some losses. For instance, if the payments stop and it takes a year to foreclose, the Seller will have lost out on $6K worth of payments. Since the foreclosure process is not free, let’s assume $10K cost (remember that the cost will depend on the location of the property). This means that the Seller still has $34K in cash and now can resell the property. If the Seller can sell the house for more than $116K, then the Seller is still ahead (remember to also add the amount of payments that were received prior to the foreclosure).

As a rehabber, I feel that investor sellers can also mitigate the quality / damage issues more easily than a homeowner. Part of a rehabber’s job is to manage the quality and costs of repairs and to focus our buying in areas of town that are more likely to appreciate.

Buyer – The Good:
It can be easier for a Buyer to qualify for the loan. Mostly because the lender has already qualified the property – the lender/seller agrees on the current value of the property and they have some history with the property’s quality. Additionally, many Sellers do not require as much documentation as an institutional lender would require to qualify the Buyer. Institutional lenders have a process that they use to qualify Buyers – this process is supposed to reduce the risk to the lender (the current economic situation was caused by a loosening of this process). Most sellers who do Seller Financing don’t have a process but instead do just enough to feel comfortable with the Buyer’s promise to pay.

Seller Financing can reduce the amount of money needed to buy a property. Some financing situations can result in zero down payment. For example, in a ’subject to’ purchase, the seller may loan you all of their equity. For example, the seller may owe $100K on a house that is in disrepair. This house may require $20K of repairs and when fixed up may be worth $200K. A deal could be crafted for a total of $120K where the Buyer takes over payments on the $100K and owes the Seller $20K (to be paid when the Buyer completes repairs and refinances or sells the house).

Seller Financing allows an investor to buy a wider range of properties. An institutional lender may not qualify a property if it is in need of some serious rehab work. As an investor Buyer, this means that I may not be able to get a bank to lend me the money needed to buy the property (they may be more accommodating for construction loans, but there are limitations there as well).