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The 6% Solution

Contributed by mm | April 15, 2004 10:00 AM PST

Selena Maranjian discussed the details of "the 6% solution" at Fool.com. The 6% solution, in short, is an arrangement in home purchase that both buyer and seller agree to put a 6% higher price in the contract and seller tunnels the 6% back to buyer in cash. If the deal goes thru, the buyer can expect to use the additional 6% to cover the closing cost, or even some of the downpayment.

To her credit, Selena explained the seller consession concept pretty well, and she accurately highlighted the limitation of the arrangement (appraiser needs to agree on the inflated price, and not all closing cost can be covered by seller's cashback).

However, being there during my home purchase exercise last year, I have to say this article can be improved for accruacy:

First, the 6% solution actually costs something to the seller. At least in my state (state of Washington), home seller needs to pay a sales tax of around 1% - 2% of the contract price. It is small amount, but a wise seller (and a qualified seller's agent) may still ask for some kind of consessions.

Second, the bank will surely ask for the final home-selling contract, so most likely the loan officier (and the appraiser) will know the existence of the 6% solution, which weakens the likelihood of a satisfactory appraisal price to make things work.

On the financial analysis front, Selena is saying:

"If we pretend for a moment that those costs add up to precisely $12,000, then what you've done is folded those closing costs into the mortgage. Points, title search, recordation fees, and all other closing costs -- most of which are not tax-deductible -- have effectively been included in your mortgage. Since your mortgage interest is tax-deductible, these costs have effectively become tax write-offs."

This statement is incorrect. The 6% solution does not turn the closing cost into tax write-offs because only the interest part of the mortgage is tax deductible. The buyer still needs to pay back the closing cost over the lifespan of the mortgage as mortgage principal, and this principal payback is not tax deductible. Furthermore, as another Fool.com article previously noted (and my blog), mortgage interest tax benefits does not kick in until all deductions surpass the standard deduction amount.

In addition Selena's comparison of the additional mortgage cost of the solution and the benefits of the solution is erroneous. In the example, Selena thinks the additional mortgage cost of the solution is $25,200 based on $70 extra monthly payment over the 30-year span. She then quantifies the investment potential of the saved closing cost as more than $200,000 over 30 years with 10% annual appreciation. She then drew the conclusion that "in this scenario, it can be well worth it."

This is like comparing apples and oranges: Selena didn't assign any time value to the $70 monthly payment while the $200,000 is the value of $12,000 after 30 year's investment (i.e. time value of money included). For a fair comparison, the opportunity cost of $70 monthly contribution at an annual appreciation of 10%, is in excess of $158,000. This is still lower than the investment value of $12,000, but the gap is not huge now. The gap exists simply because our expected invest gain (10%) is higher than the mortgage rate (8% in the example).

Actually, a detailed analysis should also include the fact that if the buyer rolls any "points" into the mortgage, it can no longer be deducted (only the interest on "points" will be deductible). If the buyer pays the points outright, he/she can usually deduct the full amount of the points in the first year. This is an important consideration because without points and if bank does not allow buyer to pay downpayment using seller consession, I can hardly imagine why closing cost will be anything close to $12,000.

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