When I was a young whippersnapper, I played a game with my fellow whippersnappers –both boys and girls –called Telephone Line. I’m sure most of you have played this game in one form or another, whether it was called “Telephone Line” or something else. You would sit in a circle –the more people the better –and one person would start the game by whispering a phrase like “my dog has fleas” into the ear of the person to her/his right (or left, depending on your political leanings). The person in whose ear the phrase is initially whispered turns to the next person in the circle and repeats that phrase in a whisper, and the game follows in that manner until the phrase has been passed to the last person in the circle. At that point, the final person in the circle repeats out loud the phrase as she/he understood it.
Ninety-nine times out of one hundred, the original phrase changes rather dramatically through repeated retellings usually due to poor hearing, muffed whispers, possible regional accents, and the kid who’s chewing a wad of bubble gum while passing the phrase along to her/his circle mate. And when it gets to the end, “my dog has fleas” has become “the designated hitter rule has ruined the game of baseball” (or something along those lines). Sure, it’s possible that you have one smart aleck kid in the middle of the line who purposefully changes the phrase (I don’t know anyone who would do that), but this usually happens because humans are involved –and humans, the well-intentioned beasts that we are, just don’t have a corner on the market of perfection. That’s how myths and misconceptions come into existence –and the mortgage world is certainly not immune to them. Let me address just two myths concerning credit scores.
Myth #1: having your credit report pulled by a lender will hurt your credit score. That’s a bold-faced lie! Honestly, it’s PARTIALLY true, but it’s not NEARLY as adverse in its effects as so many rampantly believe. The true part is simple: when you have a lender pull your credit report, this signals that you’re considering as assumption of debt, so the credit scoring trolls who live under a bridge (in a van down by the river) note that you’re displaying “risky” behavior. However, the REAL TRUTH is that such a pull doesn’t knock your score down into basement –and along those same lines, if you have your credit pulled by multiple lenders in a short period of time because you’re shopping for the best mortgage provider, those pulls will only be viewed as one action.
Myth #2: closing out credit cards will improve your score. Paying them off, yes, will improve your score, but closing them can actually HURT your credit score. In general, credit scoring models don’t measure risk by how much credit you have availablebutrather by how much of that credit you’re using – a ratio known as “credit utilization”. When you close an unused account, you reduce your total available credit, so your credit utilization goes up. The trolls don’t like things that go up.
The moral here, of course, is don’t believe everything you hear/read (except this column because this is the absolute truth, of course). Ask questions and investigate so you can be better informed –but be careful who you ask because it might be that kid with the giant wad of gum in his mouth all grown up, and you won’t understand a word he says.
In the early days of Word War II, before the United States joined in the fray, England’s European allies were quickly and systematically falling to the Nazi war machine. England, on its tiny island, was the David to Germany’s Goliath. Germany had an unparalleled advantage with an abundance of technological, industrial, and intellectual wealth at their disposal. Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of England in these dark days, had no illusions about the Nazis’ power and resolve, but he refused to bow to what so many of his fellow citizens thought was inevitable: the surrender of Great Britain’s sovereignty to Adolf Hitler. Mr. Churchill knew he was outgunned and outmanned, and he had few allies. The only way he and his nation were going to gain an edge over the Germans was through creativity.
One such occasion, Operation Postmaster, involved an island off the coast of West Africa that was under Spanish control. At that time, Spain was neutral in the war, and there were certain rules of what you could and couldn’t do in neutral territory. The Italians had parked a large ship in the island’s tiny bay and turned it into a listening post for German U-Boats to hunt and destroy England’s ships in those waters. Alongside the Italian ship were parked two German ships that acted as support. This was really a no-no, but the Spanish governor of the island looked the other way. It was absolutely critical that these ships and their operations be neutralized, but destroying them would be an act of war committed in a neutral territory – this would not help England’s cause. They chose a more piratical solution.
On an moonless evening, a small group of commandos slipped into the small island’s harbor aboard two tugboats. On shore, English spies threw a large party for the Italians and Germans so the ships were virtually unmanned. While the party was in full tilt, the commandos boarded each vessel, destroyed the moorings, and tethered the Italian ship to one tug and the two German ships to the second tug. On board the Italian ship was a small crew of men who had not gone ashore, and they were summarily taken prisoner. As the party continued into the small hours of the morning, the tugboats whisked the Axis ships away and towed them out to international waters where an English battleship commandeered them as spoils of war. No casualties, and no violation of the rules of war. If it could ever be proven, the worst the English could be found guilty of would be grand theft boat (is that a term?) or “piracy” – which would fit nicely with their heritage.
Creative thinking is crucial in this business. A gentleman excitedly called me recently to ask about a hard-money option to finance the purchase of a home that he wanted to fix and flip. When I told him about the terms, interest rate, and down-payment requirements of a hard-money loan, his excitement turned to gloom, and he almost hung up on me. I told him he actually had three other options that had better interest rates, better terms, and no down-payment requirements. Recently, I worked with a woman who is self employed and didn’t have close to the necessary income to purchase a home on her own, and a co-borrower wasn’t an option for her. I then told her about another option that would enable her to purchase a home in her current circumstances, and she was excited. What are these options at which I’ve hinted? They’re not secret, but they are creative – creative enough that a lot of other lenders wouldn’t think of them at all. Give me a call and let’s discuss your plan of attack!
For those of you who are paying attention, you might remember that I wrote about an experience I had at my local gym with a gentleman who was heavily “inked” – that’s the cool way of saying he had tattoos, in case any of you are wondering. As we sat in the sauna, he told me that all the work done on his upper torso amounted to approximately 100 hours of work, and it cost $85/hr to have an artist repeatedly jab you with a needle (I’ve done that for free at the local blood bank when the technician couldn’t find my vein). Fun! I used that experience to write about how this guy was a walking “down payment” for a house because he had spent $8,500 – more than enough to purchase a home in the range of $200,000. If it’s all coming back to you, I apologize for boring you. For those of you who don’t recall, you have just read the Reader’s Digest version (truth be told, though, the original is MUCH funnier). Since that experience, I’ve kept a small notebook and written down some of the more wacky experiences I’ve had with my fellow sauna enthusiasts (and in case you’re wondering: no, I don’t take the notebook in the sauna – I wait until I get home and write in my notebook at that time). Here’s just a sampling of those experiences:
The gentleman who stood up and proceeded to inhale deeply through his nose and exhale through his mouth. On the surface, nothing weird about that. However, he either ate a 55-gallon drum full of rotten fish or something had died inside him. Within seconds, the odor FILLED the sauna. With my eyes watering up at an alarming rate, I barely made it to the door before being blinded by my own tears.
The gentleman who insisted that we turn out the light in the sauna room because IT GAVE OFF TOO MUCH HEAT. Really? You’ve VOLUNTARILY walked into a room that’s kept north of 200 degrees, and you’re worried about a 60-watt bulb pumping out enough ADDITIONAL heat to make you feel uncomfortable?
The NUMEROUS gentlemen who walk into the sauna without nary a towel (and they sit wherever they want). I’ve found there’s an interesting matrix involving age and body mass to predict how much clothing someone will be wearing in the sauna: the older and bigger a man is, the more shamelessly naked he will enjoy his sauna session.
These three types of sauna goers are perfect examples of people we mortgage and real estate folks deal with on a daily basis. The bad-breath guy is like the client who needs help with his credit score – the equivalent to giving him a Tic Tac – so his offer will get accepted. Then there’s the light-bulb guy. This, of course, is the client who lucks into finding a home in his price range with a beautifully remodeled chef’s kitchen but complains about the color of the grout in the backsplash. And last but certainly not least is naked man who is the pathological oversharer. You ask him for his birthdate, and you suddenly find that you’ve lost thirty minutes of your life and know everything about his gallbladder surgery and where he has travelled so far around the world to collect spoons. Obviously, we have to be licensed to perform our jobs, and it’s this very licensing coupled with our knowledge that adds invaluable worth to the transaction. But where we really EARN our living is dealing with so many different personalities and making it look easy, right?