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How to Become a Hard Money Lender

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Woman Holding Loan Document Asking for Signature

Are you interested in learning how to become a hard money lender? Let’s break down what this means and what you need to know to get started.

What is a Hard Money Lender?

A hard money lender is also referred to as a private money lender, or simply, a private lender. 

Private lenders are investors who seek alternatives to the stock markets. These lenders want to locate more investment opportunities, so they seek opportunities in private or hard money lending.

If you understand the basics and perform due diligence for each deal, you can earn solid returns as a hard money lender.

Private or hard money loan returns often outperform the buying or selling of stock. However, you will need to take the time to learn how it works. And if you are willing focus and learn, you can hit home runs every time you bat.

So let’s do exactly that – learn the game of lending.

What is Hard Money Lending?

Investing in hard money loans is a lot like investing in a bond. It returns a fixed yield and pays off at maturity.

Example: If you make a loan to a borrower for $100,000 at 8.00% interest, and require interest-only payments, you will earn an income of $8,000 every year. And if the borrower does not default, the loan will pay off at or before the maturity date.

Tip: If you make a loan to a real estate investor who is in the business of flipping property, you should offer to lend the total project cost (acquisition of property plus renovation cost) only if the investor comes to the table with 20% down. This way, the investor has “skin in the game” and also provides you with the appropriate due diligence -proving why the flip project has the highest chances to succeed.

What Do I Need to Know to Become a Private Money Lender?

There are a few important factors you need to know before you become a hard money lender. If you can master these, then you can win.

Obtain Title Insurance

Make sure you obtain title insurance which insures your lien position as a lender and offers fraud protection against forgery. Unlike homeowners insurance, where if you suffer a loss with your homeowner’s policy you submit the claim and get a quick reimbursement, Title insurance is an indemnity policy. Therefore, you could be reimbursed only for a proven loss and not the potential for a loss.

Review a Borrower’s Credit

Carefully reviewing the borrower’s capacity to make monthly payments is a very important key to a successful loan investment. Private money lenders often base loans on the asset or collateral.  However, the best loans also give equal weight to the borrower’s past credit track record and capacity to repay the loan when a balloon payment is due, or when the loan matures.

Create the Right Documentation

Documenting the loan, by creating the appropriate security documents and disclosures to the borrower, is complicated and time consuming. There are a many state and federal regulations to be followed. Violation of these regulations could invalidate the loan and result in lost interest and/or fees. Make sure that you engage the appropriate counsel to guide you through the process!

Validate Property Insurance

Make sure the property owner has the appropriate fire and liability insurance in the amounts you desire as a private lender. The insurance company must also be notified to include you as an additional insured on the policy. In the event of loss, you want the check sent to you first!  There are insurance companies that specialize in writing policies for real estate investment property.  For example, National Real Estate Investment Group.

Consider Liquidity

If you think you’ll need the money before the maturity date of the loan, then do not consider becoming a hard money lender. Even though most loans payoff, there is a chance that it may not pay off as expected.

In the event that you do need your invested capital returned prior to the maturity date, you can try to sell your loan using an online loan exchange such as LoanMLS, or offer it to another private investor for sale through a hard money loan broker. However, performing and non-performing private money loans typically sell at a discount.  So, prepare yourself to take a haircut on the amount of capital returned to you.

Use Several Sources for Collateral Valuation

This is where you mitigate risk! The underlying collateral for a hard money loan is very important to your overall security and participation in the transaction.  Carefully evaluate the value of the collateral and use several sources to make your valuation.

A common mantra among private lenders is to “drive the comps yourself.”  That means do not just look at photos on an appraisal and assume you have an accurate value. Take the appraisal, get in your vehicle, and drive to the subject property as well as each comparable to make the determination of value for yourself.  What you find might surprise you.

Also, use multiple sources to confirm valuation.  In addition to an appraisal and driving the neighborhood and comparables, consider using an Automated Valuation Model or a Broker Price Opinion.

Remember Advances

Some loan investments require that lenders advance additional funds for a variety of reasons.  Borrowers sometimes require advances to cure delinquent property taxes, cure a senior lien position, hire an attorney, pay to defend bankruptcy claims, or even renovate and re-model a property if a foreclosure occurs.

The lesson here is do not invest in hard money loans without leaving yourself a cash cushion.  Take a conservative approach and leave plenty of liquidity in your personal finances to handle unexpected circumstances.

Click here to Learn Exactly How To Become A Private Lender

How to Service Your Loan?

Once a private loan is originated, payments need to be collected from the borrower, along with various tax, regulatory and informational statements sent regularly to the borrower. There are many loan servicing options to choose from. A quick Google search will help you identify a few options.

What Happens If a Borrower Doesn’t Pay?

If a borrower does not pay the private loan, investors must be prepared to go through a foreclose process to claim the collateral.  This will be an involved process which requires a significant amount of expertise and expense. Again, ensure that you engage the appropriate counsel to guide you through the process!

Other Ways to Invest in Loans

When you work with hard money loans, you should be aware of the various methods you can invest in loans and the pros and cons associated with each method.

New Loans

The new loan can be for either the purchase or construction of a new property, or for the renovation/rehab or refinance of existing debt on a property.

In this scenario you are lending specifically to one party and have control over origination, documentation requirements, terms, servicing, etc.  You will not have potential liability for a previous originator or servicer’s mistakes.  If this is a new loan made to a previous client you have the previous performance history readily available.

Con: If this is a new client, there will be little to no prior payment history on which to base a lending decision. You will have to rely upon other credit performance or on the accuracy of conversations or reports from previous lenders.

Buy Notes

Hard money lenders sometimes purchase loans that have already been originated.  In this case, lenders purchase loans at face value, at a discount, or if it’s a great loan, at a premium.

Fortunately, you can analyze and evaluate the note’s performance history. For non-performing loans, solid valuations for collateral plus deep discounts at purchase can provide excellent yields for an investor who is willing to go through the foreclosure process. And some notes, while currently non-performing, payoff to avoid foreclosure.  Others transform into perform notes through “rehabbing” and restructuring.

Unfortunately, you can buy an existing liability if the note was not originated or serviced properly. Non-performing private loans may force you to foreclose to recoup your investment that this can be a lengthy and costly process. In addition, your due diligence process will always be at the mercy of the records available from the current lender.

Pools of Loans

The process of buying a group of loans in one transaction.

You will get a much better discount for buying loans in bulk.  And for performing loans, established performance histories are there for you to evaluate.

Con: Files may not be readily available to conduct due diligence. When evaluating numerous loans across different cities and states, buyers often feel rushed to make a bid. Therefore, mistakes in the analysis are common. For the privilege of buying in bulk, you’ll get some good loans at a good price, but you’ll also likely get some duds.

Syndicated Capital

There are companies that offer opportunities to pool together funds from many investors and create a single entity to loan money.

You don’t have to make individual loan decisions as these are handled by a pool manager and your investment is diversified across a wide variety of loans.

Con: You can’t foreclose and liquidate just one loan and may be subject to the entire pool closing before you can get your funds liquid.
Importantly, your success directly ties to the success of the pool.  If the pool manager makes poor decisions, it will jeopardize the stability and return of the entire fund.
It can be difficult to sell your position once you invest.  The pool manager can accommodate your request if another party is interested in investing.

Fractionalized Loans

Similarly to a pool, fractionalized loans gather and vest private investor funds on the security instrument.  For example, if a borrower required a $1 million loan for a shopping center, the note may be fractionalized across 10 different investors, each investing $100,000.  The security document records all 10 investors.

Investing in a factionalized note is different from investing in a mortgage pool.  In the factionalized note, all investors have an interest in a singular note.  When the note liquidates, the investment liquidates.  In a pool, members have an interest in the overall pool and not a particular note.

Fractionalized transactions are commonly structured in an entity such as a limited liability company (LLC). This way, the 10 members from the example above would be members of the LLC and the manager (typically the note originator) is responsible for decisions about the note.  Commonly, transactions are structured this way to avoid a conflict when decisions about advances or foreclosure have to be made.  If all investors have equal interest in a note, all members must agree on every course of action and with the LLC in place, the manager can make decisions in the best interest of the group as a whole.

Investors can diversify by investing in multiple fractional transactions instead of all funds in one bucket.

Con: Everyone in the fractionalized group must agree on foreclosure and advances, unless the transaction is set up as an LLC with a specific individual named as the manager.  If any one member does not agree, or cannot advance needed funds, it could create problems detrimental to the investment.

Junior (2nd Position) Liens

You can earn higher returns by buying seconds or other junior liens.  However, the risks and complications of servicing escalate substantially.  Junior lien investments are not for the faint of heart.  Possibly, you could reinstate the 1st, payoff the 1st, or, if the market drops or a bankruptcy is filed, your likelihood of being wiped out entirely is much greater than a 1st lien position.

Higher rate of return and less initial cash outlay.

Con: Significantly higher risk.   If a borrower defaults on the first mortgage, you may have no choice but to bring the 1st mortgage current or pay it off to protect your investment.  A declining market could turn the property upside down, unless you can “ride it out” until the market swings back. A bankruptcy filing by the borrower could also easily wipe out your investment completely.

Is Private Investing Right for You?

Overall, there is no “right” way to invest in loans. The only thing you can control is a relationship within the private money transaction you have researched.

Remember, there is no substitute for your personal due diligence, whether it’s on the lender or on the property. Rely on proven professionals for advice, but make the private lending underwriting decisions yourself after careful due diligence.

Click here to Learn Exactly How To Become A Private Lender

Ross Hamilton

Ross Hamilton

Ross Hamilton started investing in real estate in 2001 at 19 years of age and in his early 20’s, using the profits earned from his real estate investing business, Ross founded ConnectedInvestors.com. In 2015, Ross and his team consolidated the hard and private money lending space when they opened the doors to CiX.com. CiX facilitates over $3B in fix and flip and buy and hold funding requests each month. Ross was nominated by Entrepreneur magazine as Emerging Entrepreneur of 2011, serves on the Forbes Real Estate Council and is a professionally published author.

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