Law Office of Marilyn Sullivan Law Office of Marilyn Sullivan Law Office of Marilyn Sullivan
Law Office of Marilyn Sullivan

Equity Sharing
Lease Option
Sale by owner
short sale
blog
Products
Contact Us
Home Page

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

December 2, 2008

Putting Your House to Work

How some homeowners are trying to turn their homes into profit centers, despite falling values

By DIANA RANSOM

Faced with rising expenses -- and declining home values -- homeowners are finding creative ways to squeeze money out of their houses.

Some are renting their place out to boarders, or to film crews who want to shoot commercials and movies on location. Others are cultivating crops in their backyard to peddle at farmers' markets, while some are installing solar panels on their roof and then selling the renewable-energy credits they get from the government.

No matter which course they choose, "rising costs have sent many homeowners scrambling for ways to stay afloat," says Marilyn Sullivan, a real-estate attorney in Arroyo Grande, Calif., who often counsels troubled homeowners.

Here's a look at four strategies homeowners are using to make ends meet.

Renting Out the House

The rental market has been flying high these days. As foreclosures mount, displaced homeowners are looking for someplace else to live -- and potential buyers are getting gun-shy about leaping into ownership.

Some cash-strapped homeowners are trying to use the situation to their advantage. Eric Thompson, a 39-year-old insurance salesman, recently moved out of his Richmond, Va., home and rented it to a couple of twentysomethings for $1,500 a month.

"I had to do something," Mr. Thompson says. "I have other bills to pay, and I can't afford them."

Mr. Thompson bought the 1906 Victorian row house for $365,000 in 2005. He moved to the area to start an ice-cream franchise with his brother and sister-in-law. Two years later, he got a job offer in California and was ready to leave -- but found he couldn't unload his home.

"It was on the market for six months and did not get one offer," Mr. Thompson says. He even tried reducing the price well below what he paid, but that didn't work, either. "In my neighborhood, it's been four months since the last home sold," he says.

So, Mr. Thompson found lodgers and moved back in with his parents in Santa Maria, Calif. They agreed to let him come home, as his situation appeared bleak.

Mr. Thompson continues to worry about his bills, particularly his five-year adjustable-rate mortgage, which he says could cause his monthly payment to skyrocket if the interest rate on his loan adjusts upward in two years.

Location, Location, Location

Frank Sanford also knows a thing or two about contending with a pricey house payment. The 50-year-old London transplant pays about $9,000 a month to live in a 4,300-square-foot colonial clapboard house in Los Angeles, which comes equipped with four bedrooms and a tennis court.

To make his mortgage more affordable, Mr. Sanford rents out his home between 30 and 40 days a year to film studios. The house has shown up in commercials for the likes of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Verizon Communications Inc., as well as the movie "Transformers."

Mr. Sanford usually charges about $995 a day, although the price can shoot up as high as $5,000. All told, he says, he pulls in about $25,000 a year from the fees.

Of course, not every homeowner -- or every home, for that matter -- is cut out for the movie business. "It's a big house, and I'm just one guy," he says. But, more important, "I'm not the kind of person that feels that my home is my castle."

For the setup to work, Mr. Sanford says, you have to be willing to see people traipsing in and out of your home, alarming the neighbors, leaving scuff marks on the floor or chipping away at the paint.

Now he's thinking of getting out of the business -- but not because of those hassles. When he started renting his house, at the recommendation of friends in the film business, Mr. Sanford was also running a press agency at home. That helped him save on office space and allowed him to write off part of his mortgage.

But he recently sold the business, so he's looking to sell his home, too. "I think I'll get less than I could have gotten last year," Mr. Sanford says. "But it doesn't make sense to hold onto this house without the offices in it."

Back to the Land


Martin Barrett, a Scottish native living in Portland, Ore., didn't know the first thing about growing crops when he and his friend Dan Bravin discovered spin farming. The practice -- short for small plot intensive farming -- involves growing produce in nontraditional urban or suburban settings, and then selling it.

Despite their lack of experience, the two were tilling soil and planting seeds in Mr. Barrett's 9,000-square-foot backyard in no time. Then they started to move beyond those confines, cultivating crops on other people's property and giving them fresh produce in return for the use of the space.

Now Messrs. Barrett, 42, and Bravin, 38, sell people annual subscriptions to their produce for $350 a pop. Their business, City Garden Farms LLC, also peddles produce at farmers' markets throughout the city.

"Before March 2008, I had never grown a vegetable in my life," says Mr. Barrett. "After six months, we grew in excess of 5,000 items for people."

From his property alone, Mr. Barrett estimates, the business has sold about $2,000 of produce collected over the 20- to 25-week harvest season from June to October. However, between buying seeds, farming tools and a refrigeration unit for his garage, Mr. Barrett says he and Mr. Bravin have just broken even.

Next year will likely be more profitable, Mr. Barrett predicts. "We will probably double the number of subscriptions we sell," he says.

Living Off the Grid


When Monica Ball and her husband, Bill, decided to hitch a 9,900-watt solar-panel system to their 4,000-square-foot home three years ago, they had some reservations. Even though the Sergeantsville, N.J., couple got a generous 70% subsidy from the state, they had to borrow $19,000 from their retirement savings to pay the balance.

In retrospect, however, "it was the best decision I ever made," says Ms. Ball, 43. Not only does the power from the panels help lower the family's utility bills, which Ms. Ball estimates used to total about $500 each month, the Balls also earn between $6,000 and $7,000 annually from the panels.

Here's how it works. Each year, the state of New Jersey provides the Balls with Solar Renewable Energy Certificates, which represent the cost of offsetting pollution-generating energy. The Balls then sell the certificates for about $500 to $700 on the open market to brokers or electricity suppliers who are required to invest in solar energy under New Jersey's Renewable Portfolio Standards.

Having this added income is especially helpful as the Balls' home, which is situated on seven-acre lot, costs a whopping $13,000 a year in property taxes, Ms. Ball says.
"To me, that $19,000 investment on the roof is the equivalent of having a rental property, except you don't have a tenant," Ms. Ball says.

Write to Diana Ransom at diana.ransom@wsj.com

__________________________________________________________________________

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

July 9, 2007

A Little Help, Please

For first-time home buyers coming up a little short, here's one option: Share the wealth

By DIANA RANSOM

While most people want to own a home, young singles and couples often find it impossible to scratch together enough cash to make the purchase. More established folks, too, sometimes discover that the down payment for their dream house is just too big a nut to crack.

It doesn't have to be that way. Simple financial strategies exist that allow disadvantaged buyers to split the cost of a house by sharing the wealth.

"We can do more when we join with other people's money," says Marilyn Sullivan, a real-estate attorney in Arroyo Grande, Calif. Using a form of co-ownership known as equity-sharing, at least two people or entities can own one piece of real estate, and the second party -- often a family member or friend -- doesn't have to be a resident. Nor does the second party have to wait until the property is sold in order to benefit from the investment. Indeed, co-owners who itemize can use the arrangement to claim deductions on their income-tax returns. Here's how to get by with a little help from a friend:

Basic Equity Sharing

In a traditional equity-share arrangement, one party occupies the property and pays for all of the expenses, while a nonresident investor -- typically a family member, real-estate investor or the property's seller -- supplies all or a portion of the up-front cash.
Mom and Dad might agree to bankroll the down payment in return for a proportional share of the home's appreciation when it is sold. In some cases, the sellers may be willing to take on the investor role if they haven't been able to recoup the full value of their house.
Whoever the investor is, he or she will want to be named on the title along with the occupant. But the investor may not want to be named on the loan. Being on the loan, says Andy Sirkin, a real-estate attorney in San Francisco, may hamper future investments if the investor has other loans, since lenders generally consider excessive debt to be risky.
Once the overall financing is taken care of, there is the matter of rent -- and those promised tax benefits.

In equity-sharing, the occupant is required by the Internal Revenue Service to pay rent to the investor for the portion of the property that the investor owns. The amount depends first on what the property could rent for in the open market. Say the fair-market rental value is $2,000 and the investor's ownership stake is 20%. That means $400 a month is owed to the investor.


SHOULD YOU LEARN TO SHARE?


Here are some questions you should ask yourself if you're considering equity-sharing:

FOR BUYERS FOR INVESTORS

Am I willing to stay in one particular home for five years? Most equity shares have five-year terms, and require that the occupier remain in the arrangement for the full term. You forfeit some of your equity as damages if you end the equity share early.

Can I afford to tie up money for five years? Although investors are permitted to sell their equity-sharing interests, finding a buyer may be difficult.

Are my business and personal circumstances stable? Life changes such as a job loss can lead to default and loss of investment if, say, you can no longer afford the household payments. o Would I feel comfortable delegating control? The everyday management of the equity-share property will be in the hands of the occupier.

Would I feel comfortable discussing future financial troubles with my investor? The best way to avoid dispute and loss is to discuss trouble early and develop a strategy. o Am I willing to consider investment decisions from a homeowner's standpoint? For the occupier, the equity-share property is both a home and an investment, and his primary motivation may not be investment return. For the equity share to run smoothly, you will need to compromise on occasions when quality-of-life concerns clash with investment concerns

Can I share control of my home? You will need to consult with your investor on major decisions. Source: The Equity Sharing Manual by Andy Sirkin

Then, if the investor pays for expenses such as insurance, maintenance, association dues and property taxes, the rent can just be considered reimbursement for those costs.
The investor can deduct those expenses from his or her taxable income in an amount equal to -- and in some cases exceeding -- the rental income. If the deductible expenses, which are considered "passive" investment losses, add up to more than the rent, the excess may be carried over to future years or taken as a deduction against other passive investment gains such as those arising from other rental income or the eventual sale of the property.

The success of co-ownership arrangements hinges on having a well-crafted equity-sharing agreement, which spells out various contingencies. The agreement "is critical for managing the tax complexities," says Matthew I. Berger, a real-estate attorney in Santa Barbara, Calif.

There are potential downsides for investors: If the value of the property has declined at the time of the sale, the investor must share the loss. In addition, "they are parking their money and aren't seeing any immediate profits," since the rental income is used to fund property expenses, says Mr. Berger.

Many equity-share or tenancy-in-common agreements, as they're also called, specify that the home has to reach a certain value before it can be sold. But the agreements can specify in some cases what both parties' responsibilities are if the occupant gets a job transfer.

At HomeEquityShare.com, a Web site that matches prospective home buyers with real-estate investors, individuals making successful connections receive a free equity-share agreement. Custom-made agreements prepared by an attorney can cost around $1,000.
Co-Occupiers

A second kind of strategy is known as a co-occupier arrangement, in which at least two parties fund a down payment, pay subsequent homeownership costs, occupy the property together and split the gains or losses from the sale of the home.
One caveat: Co-occupancy loans are typically shared, meaning if one owner skips town, the other is liable for the full loan.

"When you buy something with an unrelated person you are considered to be tenants in common," says Alexander Laufer, a real-estate attorney in Fairfax, Va. In this way of holding property, you can each sell your interest individually and designate who will inherit your interest if you die -- otherwise your share of the property would pass to the other owner.

Avoid Personal Loans

Parents might consider making the down payment themselves, thus avoiding the complication of sharing equity. But a parent can't give a child more than $12,000 a year without incurring gift tax.

Parents also might think about making the down payment a loan. But this is a bad idea for several reasons.

The interest payments on the loan -- especially if it's from Mom or Dad -- won't be tax deductible unless the loan is legally secured by collateral. Moreover, if a mortgage lender is already lined up for the purchase, that lender may see the additional loan as increasing the borrower's risk level, and so increase its rate.

And finally, the ability to claim deductions and avoid taxes in the event of a property exchange requires being co-owners of the property. Just lending the money, says Marc J. Minker, an accountant and financial adviser in New York, is "squandering a tax deduction."

__________________________________________________________________________

SAN JOSE MERURCY NEWS

July 24, 2008

Equity-sharing the American Dream

Proposed law may help put the brakes on thousands of foreclosures

Equity-sharing proposal may provide relief for threatened homeowners

By Broderick Perkins

Federal legislative relief for the nation's housing crisis contains a provision that could turn a rarely used home-financing option equity sharing into a key steppingstone on the path of homeownership.

Along with other provisions, the law would create a Federal Housing Administration-sponsored equity-sharing program to refinance loans at a discount for homeowners facing foreclosure. In return, homeowners would share future equity gains with the FHA.

"The feds are about to take equity sharing to the next level," says Jeff Langholz, founder and CEO of HomeEquityShare.com, an online network that matches equity- sharing partners.

Not only would the government effort save an estimated 400,000 homes from foreclosure, federal backing could raise the profile of this unconventional creative financing tool and push it into the mainstream of housing finance.

"Every transition in life comes with intermediate stages. Before you are married you get engaged, before you get your driver's license you get a learner's permit. Before you get to homeownership, what intermediate transition is there?" Langholz asks.

He is banking on the equity-sharing provision in the federal relief package. That may be a safe bet.

Both the U.S. House of Representatives (H.R. 3221 by Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.) and the U.S. Senate (the unnumbered bill known as the "Federal Housing Finance Regulatory Reform Act of 2008" by Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn.) this summer passed versions of the same relief package. Both contain the equity-sharing provision.

This month, federal legislators were reconciling differences for final approval, which is expected "certainly before the August [congressional] break," says Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly.

The basics

Equity sharing is a symbiotic relationship as well as a legal agreement between two or more parties holding title to one home. Two or more parties share title in order to share the risk, thereby also reducing the risk. Inevitably, however, home price appreciation is the bottom line. The property must grow in value over the term of the deal for it to really pay off.

Parties in the mutually beneficial relationship, and their roles are:

The seller. The seller can use equity sharing as a way to quickly sell in a slow market. The seller can also become the investor and retain a stake in the property.

The occupying homeowner. Often savings-poor, but income-rich, one person, with little or no money down, becomes the buyer-occupant. The home's occupant pays the mortgage and other costs associated with owning and operating a home, including taxes, insurance, maintenance and the like.

He or she gets to deduct a share of the mortgage interest and property taxes, along with other tax breaks that come with home ownership. With enough equity growth, the occupant can eventually cash out, buy out the investor, keep the home or use the equity gain to buy another.

The investor. Typically a non-resident, the second owner provides the initial financial leverage in the form of a down payment or larger stake. He or she can be a family member, trusted friend or professional investor. The investor also gets tax deductions for his or her share. With time, provided equity grows, the investor likewise enjoys a joint venture-like return on the investment.

Title to the home can be held in a variety of ways joint tenancy with right of survivorship, tenancy in common, partnership or as a living trust.

The variations

Like its creative-financing cousins seller financing and lease options equity sharing often makes the news as an alternative financing tool that buyers and sellers turn to in tough, cash- or credit-tight markets. That's because equity sharing lessens the upfront costs buyers face in any market. When buyers can buy, sellers can sell.

However, a tight market isn't mandatory:

Equity sharing can be strictly business an investment purely for financial gain, provided the investor and buyer are willing to assume the risk. Their hope is to realize enough appreciation to make the deal pay off.

The federal legislation points to equity sharing as a tool to help stave off foreclosure. Even without federal backing, a defaulting homeowner can privately bring in an equity-share investor to buy a lump sum stake in the property or subsidize monthly payments over time; that is, pay some or all of the monthly mortgage for some period. Again, for the effort, the investor gets an equity stake.

Equity sharing can be used by a financially secure seller who doesn't need to drop his or her home price, but wants to move. With an investor buying an 80 percent stake, the seller could retain 20 percent ownership and get another home. Then, say five years down the road, the seller and investor sell the home, each taking an appropriate share of the equity. Again, and always, appreciation must be sufficient for the deal to pay off.

Some local governments offer equity-sharing deals. The City of San Jose, for example, offers an equity-sharing, deferred-payment loan program for qualified, first-time, low- and moderate-income households. The program provides housing from select, targeted properties in new housing developments.

Qualified buyer-occupants pay zero. They live mortgage-payment free. There's no down payment, no monthly payment and no interest payment, until it's time to sell or the loan is due in 45 years.

However, when the home is sold, the sale price goes to the city, which has been picking up the monthly mortgage tab. The city (in exchange for also paying the interest) and occupant share any equity gain on a pro-rated basis based on the terms of the mortgage. If the gain is sufficient, the occupant can use it to buy his or her own home.

The occupant can also stay put for the 45-year term of the mortgage again, cost free. However, the loan is due at the end of the term, and again, any proceeds go to the city. If the occupant remains until the end of the term, the city relinquishes any and all claims on equity gains.

Either during a sale before the end of the term or at the end of the term, the occupant is not obligated to use the equity to buy a new home, but can choose to use that gain as he or she wishes.

In the past several years, San Jose has housed hundreds of families with variations of its equity-sharing program.

The devil's in the details

Equity deals are not silver bullets.

They are most often short-term contracts of five, seven, 10 years or so to make sure the period of risk exposure is short. At the end of the term, the net proceeds from the sale are split and doled out according to contract.

Because the deal relies upon appreciation within a short term, equity sharing can be a tough sell in a depreciating market. They are perhaps better suited for a bottom market or market already on the rise. The current market also makes the deals dicey because, as of yet, there's no federal backing.

Equity sharing is also a two-sided coin when it comes to the lender. Risk-averse lenders have put a squeeze on all credit and may not look favorably on all but the most "plain vanilla" mortgages.

On the other hand, if the investors has cash for his, say, 80 percent stake and the buyer-occupant needs a mortgage of only 20 percent of the value of the home, the lender might bite.

"Obviously if you are only going to borrow, say, a 30 percent loan [because the investor antes up 70 percent] and there are two people, you have a better chance. You are always better off if you have another person, but lenders are really spooked," says David Hofmann, a San Jose real estate attorney with Hoge Fenton Jones & Appel, Inc.

"Even people who recently qualified are having a tough time. Lenders don't want to see anyone on any loan with any credit issues. Most lenders faced with a default will just take the property back, " Hofmann adds.

Equity sharing also remains obscure because the deals can be complicated. They must be legal and binding contracts designed to provide an equitable means to an end. It must include provisions for any disputes or disagreements that might arise during the term. The contracts typically don't allow extracting any returns until the term is up, unless there's an escape clause. Escape clauses come with provisions that include stiff cash penalties for early outs and other resolutions.

Finally, even if the equity-sharing deal is designed to create a homeowner, its underlying investment approach triggers a different set of underwriting and tax rules, compared to a conventional home buy.

Buyers will almost always need an equity sharing-experienced team real estate agent, attorney and tax professional to set up the transaction's contract.

"These deals can give some new lenders heartburn, but there is surprising interest from senior lenders who were around when shared appreciation mortgages (SAMs) were around in the 1980s," says Langholz.

The resources

Here's a list of equity-sharing resources:

The HomeEquityShare.com network for home equity matchups between sellers, buyers and investors, based in Monterey

Larkspur-based Marilyn D. Sullivan's The New Home Buying Strategy (Venture 2000, $25.95) equity-sharing manual (MSullivan.com)

San Francisco-based Andy Sirkin, of Sirkin Paul Associates, offers the Basic Equity Sharing Structure manual and other materials at AndySirkin.com

In San Jose, real estate attorney David Hofmann with the Real Estate Group at Hoge Fenton Jones & Appel, Inc., HogeFenton.com

The San Marcos-based BuyHalfAHouse.com team of Don Reedy (real estate agent), Howard Schwartz (loan officer) and Richard Borkowski (investor)

Broderick Perkins owns and operates DeadlineNews.Com, a San Jose-based real estate and consumer news service. Contact him at news@deadlinenews.com

__________________________________________________________________________

 

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

February 18, 2004

Brian Collins of our office was the source for this article.

Helping Others Buy a Home Can Be Beneficial

Share the wealth.

By RAY A. SMITH
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Through shared-equity agreements, individual real-estate investors can do just that to help a family member or friend buy a home -- and reap some profit and tax benefits in the process.

Some accountants and financial advisers are recommending that their clients, especially those with adult children, consider these investment vehicles as home prices have skyrocketed.

The pacts are co-ownership agreements between two parties, an investor-owner and an occupier-owner. The investor-owner puts up cash for either some or all of the down payment for a house that a family member or friend wants to buy. Once the property is purchased, both parties have an ownership interest in the property.

The family member or friend becomes the property's occupier-owner. For tax reasons, under the Internal Revenue Code (Section 280A), the investor-owner must charge the occupier-owner fair rent for the right to occupy the property if he or she wants to take any tax deductions related to the property. The investor-owner can then use that rent to cover the expenses, including mortgage payments, homeowners insurance, and property taxes.
"I almost always recommend that the investor-owner charge rents so [he or she] can maximize tax benefits," says Brian Collins, an attorney in Ross, Calif.

The agreement has a finite life, often varying from three to 10 years, after which the occupier-owner can buy the investor-owner out or vice versa; the property can be sold with the proceeds being divided between the parties; or the term can be extended.
These agreements can be advantageous for both parties. For instance, if the property is sold at the end of the deal's term, the investor-owner gets back the original down payment plus a share of the proceeds from the sale. Also, the investor-owner can get a tax write-off on expenses and could receive tax deductions for depreciation.

Owner-occupiers can benefit by deducting mortgage-interest payments and property taxes on their income-tax returns. What's more, if and when the property is sold, they qualify for exemption from capital gains -- as much as $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for couples, as long as they lived in the property for at least two out of the previous five years.

There are some risks, though. For one, the occupier-owner might fall behind in payments and even default on the mortgage, which could force the investor-owner to foreclose on the property -- a lengthy and costly process. The investor-owner would have to pay out of pocket for the foreclosure process.

In some cases, there's also the possibility of the property depreciating so the investor-owner either would get less or just the down payment back. In addition, the occupier-owner also could neglect upkeep of the property, which means it wouldn't be attractive to a buyer when the agreement ends.

Sandra West, a Frederick, Md.-based certified public accountant, points out that it's important for investors to consult with a real-estate attorney familiar with the jurisdiction in which they're investing. "Each state has different rules regarding real-estate titling," she says. The names of all participants in the agreements must be on the property title.

AGREEING TO SHARE


Shared-equity financing agreements can be used to create a tax benefit for a parent or other person helping an adult child or other loved one to purchase a residence. Here is how such an arrangement can be structured.

The arrangement provides that the investor:

o Furnishes the down payment of 20% toward the purchase price of the home

o At the end of five years, the home is sold and the investor receives back the original down payment plus/minus 50% of the profit/loss on the home (which is treated as long-term capital gain/loss)

o Is not a co-signor on the mortgage but may take over the home and mortgage if the buyer defaults

o Is subject to the risk of loss if the property sells for less than the purchase price, but is not liable for any losses in excess of the original down payment

The arrangement provides that the buyer:

o Selects the home and must qualify for the mortgage

o Pays the mortgage and gets tax deduction on interest

o Is responsible for all repairs and maintenance

o Must sell the home when any "triggering event" occurs such as change in marital status, the ceasing of the use of the home as the principal residence, or insolvency. In general, must sell at the end of five years, unless there is agreement to buy out the investor based on qualified appraisals

o Keeps half of the profit on the home when sold

San Jose Mercury News

SATURDAY, MAY 11, 2002

The San Jose Mercury News serves the heart of the Silicon Valley.

Real Estate Cover Story.

It's a win-win. The only loser is the IRS, and don't you just love that?

EQUITY SHARING PUTS PEOPLE INTO HOUSES WHILE GIVING INVESTORS A CHANCE FOR PROFITS

By Julie Clairmont
Special to the Mercury News

The down payment, for some, is a seemingly insurmountable brick wall between them and the American Dream of owning their own home.

This is especially true in expensive California real estate markets like Santa Clara County, where the median price of a single-family home hovers around $475,000, meaning a home buyer would need $95,000 for a 20 percent down payment.

The ironic thing, says Larkspur attorney and real estate broker Marilyn Sullivan, is that it doesn't have to be like that.

Sullivan is a nationally recognized expert on equity sharing, an arrangement in which investors supply the down payment and the buyer-occupant lives in the house and pays the mortgage. At the end of a specified term -- Sullivan recommends seven years -- the home is sold. The investors and occupant split the equity, usually 50-50, and go their separate ways. The sale could be to a third party, or the occupant could refinance the property and buy out the investor.

``The goal is for the occupant to have a tax deduction, realize some appreciation and, when it's over, be able to get rid of the investor,'' says Sullivan, author of a book on the subject, ``The New Home Buying Strategy.''

If the investor and occupant choose a property that is a solid investment, both parties benefit, says Sullivan. The occupant becomes a homeowner without a down payment, and the investor makes a return on their investment. On top of that, both parties receive tax benefits from owning the home.

Darren Story, a San Francisco options broker, and his brother, Eric Story, a Safeway manager, used equity sharing recently to buy a $680,000 home in the Crocker-Amazon area of San Francisco, near the Cow Palace. Their father, Stephen Story of Catalina Island, was the investor, coming up with 15 percent of the 20 percent down payment for the mortgage loan.

Problems typical

Darren, 30, and Eric Story, 25, are typical of many Bay Area residents: well-paid with good jobs and strong credit, but finding it difficult to come up with the large down payment needed to purchase a home here.

Equity sharing ``is a great opportunity for both parties,'' says Darren Story. ``It was a good way for my dad, who was pretty hard-hit in the stock market, to balance out the risk in his portfolio and, at the same time, help his kids out.''

There are different ways to structure an equity sharing deal, and the tax benefits depend on the agreement. Using Sullivan's formula, the investor would use rent paid by the occupant to pay for homeowners insurance and homeowners dues (if any) -- both of which are tax-deductible for the investor.

The investor and occupant both get to deduct the property taxes; if the ownership agreement is 50-50, they would each get to deduct half. The occupant also gets to deduct the mortgage interest. The investor can also depreciate their share of the rental property.

``It's a win-win,'' says Sullivan. ``The only loser is the IRS, and don't you just love that?''

How it works

Using a $400,000 home as an example, Sullivan explains how one equity sharing model works:

• An investor or investors supplies an $80,000 down payment -- 20 percent -- and the occupant pays the $2,000 mortgage payment each month plus rent to the investor.

• The two parties agree to a 50-50 split in ownership and take title as tenants in common.

• Assuming 10 percent annual appreciation, the house would be worth $779,000 after seven years. Assuming a loan balance of $295,000, equity in the home would equal $484,000.



• The house is sold, the investor gets the $80,000 down payment back, and the occupant receives the $25,000 in mortgage principal they have paid. That leaves $379,000 for the parties to split, without taking into account realty agent commissions or other sales costs.

• Additionally, the occupant-buyer has been deducting mortgage interest over the seven years, and both the occupant and investor have been deducting a portion of the property taxes.

• The investor could reinvest their share of the proceeds in another rental property through a tax-deferred exchange, she says.

In Sullivan's example, the title is held as ``tenants in common,'' but title can also be held in joint tenancy with the right of survivorship, partnership, or a living trust. However, all parties must hold title.

If the property has not appreciated during the term of the contract, the parties could agree to an extension. Some contracts have a clause that provides for automatic extension if the property has not gained in value.

Low risk

Ken Gervais, owner of Triangle Realty in San Jose, says there are few risks to equity sharing, if it is done thoughtfully.

``Anytime you have a someone buying something with very little money invested, you run a higher risk that they will default,'' says Gervais, who has been in business for 10 years.

``But that's why we look for occupants with excellent credit.''

For the occupant, the time factor may be a problem, says Gervais, who recommends a five-year equity sharing term. Through his program, occupants can rent out the home if they need to. In most cases he has seen, buyers have opted not to purchase the home at the end of the contract. ``After five years most people are ready to move on,'' he says.

Triangle Realty matches occupants and investors for equity sharing and also will help would-be occupants find a house.

Gervais says making offers on homes using equity sharing financing, even in a seller's market, is not difficult. The trick, he says, is for the occupant to get all of their financing in place before they make an offer.

The biggest challenge of equity sharing may be finding an investor or investors. Amy and Todd Mezullo of Sebastopol, for example, feel they would be ideal occupants in an equity sharing arrangement. ``We've got good credit and income, we're upwardly mobile, we've been paying rent on our town home for the past eight years,'' says Amy Mezullo.

The Mezullos, who would like to buy a home in Santa Rosa, closer to Todd Mezullo's job, are hoping to find an investor who will see them as a good risk. The couple has posted their names on a bulletin board on Sullivan's Web site hoping to hook up with an investor.

While Sullivan has overseen about 1,000 equity-sharing deals over 17 years, she says it's a home-buying tool that is most used within families, specifically for parents helping children.

Sullivan suggests home buyers interested in equity sharing consider approaching family members and friends and asking them to invest $2,000 or $3,000 each until there is enough money for the down payment. She also recommends they learn how to explain the benefits of the investment, particularly the possible appreciation benefits of investing in California real estate.

Would-be home buyers interested in equity sharing might also try contacting realty agents, accountants, attorneys and other professionals who might know an investor.

While equity sharing can be mutually beneficial for investors and occupants, financial experts recommend using a real estate attorney who understands equity sharing agreements. Do not attempt to draft the contract yourself, they say.

Some tax professionals recommend against equity sharing agreements with strangers, saying this tool works best for parents who want to help their children get into a home.

EQUITY SHARING
For more information about equity sharing in buying homes:

Marilyn Sullivan offers a free seminar on equity sharing on the first Tuesday of every month, 6 to 7 p.m. at Bank of America, 1000 Fourth St., San Rafael. Reservations by calling (415) 461-1444 or going on the Web at www.msullivan.com

Sullivan has written a book on the subject, ``The New Home Buying Strategy,'' that is available at Amazon.com. ($24.95, McGraw Hill).

San Francisco Chronicle

SUNDAY, JULY 29, 2001

 

Equity sharing can benefit investors, first-time buyers

Judy Richter - Real Money

It's no secret that buying your first house in the Bay Area is difficult.

Even if you have a good income and can make hefty mortgage payments, it's hard to save a 10 or 20 percent down payment when starter houses are going for $400,000 or more.

One way around this quandary is an investor-occupant arrangement called equity sharing. In such an arrangement, the investor supplies the down payment but doesn't live in the house.

The occupant lives in the house, pays the mortgage and agrees to give the investor an ownership interest - usually 50 percent - in the house.

To satisfy Internal Revenue Service requirements, the occupant also pays the investor rent in proportion to the investor's ownership share, said Marilyn Sullivan, a Larkspur attorney who specializes in equity sharing contracts.

In turn, the investor claims his share as rental property and is entitle to the tax benefits that go with it.

Sullivan cited a theoretical $00,000 house for which the investor supplies the $80,000 down payment and the occupant pays the $2,00 monthly mortgage payment. They agree to a 50-50 split in ownership and take title as tenants in common.

Using formulas and software that she has developed, Sullivan said the occupant would pay the investor $640 a month in rent.

The investor uses that rent to pay expenses in this order: homeowner insurance, which is tax-deductible for him but not for the occupant; homeowner dues, if any, which also are tax-deductible for him but not for the occupant; and whatever is left for property taxes, which are deductible for both parties.
The investor also can depreciate his share of the house as rental property.

"In the long run, the occupant loses 1- to 15 percent of the deductions" that he would get if he owned the house alone, Sullivan said.
However, the investor has used the rent to pay expenses that the occupant would ordinarily pay, and the occupant still gets tax deductions that he wouldn't have had as a renter.

The arrangement usually continues for a set number of years, after which either party has the right to buy out the other.




If neither one wants it and they decide to sell the house, they split the proceeds.

Again citing that $400,000 house, Sullivan assumed that it appreciated 10 percent a year and sold for $779,000 after seven years.

She also assumed that the loan balance is $295,000, leaving and equity of $484,000. From that amount the investor is entitled to his $80,000 down payment. The occupant is entitled to the $25,000 in mortgage principal he paid over the years, leaving $379,000 for them so split equally. That's $189,000 each before the sales costs are paid.

Besides walking away with that cash, the occupant has deducted a total of $169,000 in mortgage interest over the seven years. The investor has received $30,800 in rent but has applied it to other costs, which he has deducted.

Furthermore, because his share was rental property, the investor can reinvest in another rental property -
called a tax-deferred exchange - and not pay taxes on his share of the sales proceeds, Sullivan said.

Equity sharing can be an excellent real estate investment because the occupant has an ownership stake and a strong incentive to make the payments and maintain the property. Even if one part reneges on the deal, the other can foreclose.

Sellers confronted with a slow market might offer to do an equity-sharing arrangement to help sell their houses.
Many parents see equity sharing as a good way to help their children buy a house. Moreover, they can gift a portion of their investment to the child or children each year. "It's a good estate reduction tool," Sullivan said.

However, equity sharing also can be done by strangers. Some people put ads in the paper looking for investors or occupants.

One of the most important factors in equity sharing is to choose a
house that has a good chance of appreciating, Sullivan said.

It's also important to remember that this is a business deal even when family members are involved. Therefore, it's crucial to have a written contract that spells out all aspects of the finances as well as contingencies such as death, bankruptcy or liens.

Sullivan has written two books about equity sharing: "The Complete Guide to Equity Sharing" and "The New Home Buying Strategy."

She also teaches a free seminar about equity sharing the first Tuesday of every month from 6 to 7 p.m. at the Bank of America, 1000 Fourth Street, San Rafael. Reservations may be made at 415-461-2311 or www.msullivan.com.
_______________________________

E-mail Judy Richter at
jrichter@sfchronicle.com