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What to know before buying mortgage notes
By Harvey S. Jacobs April 19, 2013
Last of three parts
Buying mortgage notes can provide the savvy investor with secure returns without the hassles and risks of buying and flipping a fixer-upper, locating tenants for a rental condo or unclogging toilets.
When most folks think about mortgage notes they think about industry giants such as Bank of America or Wells Fargo. According to Mortgage Bankers Association estimates, these institutions will originate $1.3 trillion in residential mortgages this year.
But there is a subset of the mortgage market called private mortgages, which come in several forms.
A common one is “seller financing” — that’s when the seller agrees to lend his buyer all or a portion of the home’s purchase price. Often the principal and interest payments are structured to amortize over a 30-year period like traditional loans, but require a balloon payment — meaning the borrower must remit the entire outstanding principal — after five years.
The expectation is that the borrower will, during this five-year period, refinance into a conventional-type loan from an institutional lender. If the borrower is unable to pay the full amount after five years, the noteholder can foreclose and take back the home. The main risk to the note investor is that the net sale proceeds of the foreclosure sale are insufficient to cover the note balance.
These seller-financed loans are generally used by borrowers who are unable to qualify for conventional institutional financing. This may not necessarily be a reflection of the borrower’s creditworthiness. For example, under existing institutional guidelines, many self-employed borrowers with high incomes and top credit scores still do not qualify for many institutional conventional loans.
Retirees face similar hurdles.
For these reasons, private mortgage loans generally carry a higher-than-market interest rate. It is this high interest rate that makes them attractive to real estate investors.
Private mortgages are also originated by private lenders who are willing to lend money to home buyers at above-market rates provided that the loan is secured by the borrower’s property as collateral. These investors will want to conduct due diligence not only on the borrower’s ability to repay, but also on the property’s market value and condition, should the investor have to foreclose.
Private mortgage notes are readily saleable in a robust secondary market. Although their higher-than-market interest rates make them attractive as buy and hold investments, private mortgage notes can be sold and thus converted into cash. The amount they sell for is based on the principal balance, the number of payments that have been made (referred to as “seasoning”), the number of remaining payments, the home’s appraised value and the borrower’s creditworthiness.
The concept of “time value of money” also controls how much you should be willing to pay for a private mortgage note. This concept dictates that receiving a dollar today is worth more than receiving a dollar in the future. Tools available online will calculate the present value of a future stream of income. What this means is that the seller of a private mortgage note cannot expect to sell his note for the outstanding principal balance of that note. Rather, he can sell it only for the discounted “present value” of the sum of the future payments.
To illustrate this concept, assume a seller sells his home on June 1 for $500,000; he insists on a 20 percent down payment of $100,000 and agrees to lend the buyer the remaining $400,000. He agrees to amortize the loan over a 30-year period with a balloon payment after five years.
The note bears interest at 5 percent annually. To “season” the note, he holds it for six months and receives six monthly payments of principal and interest. After the sixth payment, the outstanding principal balance of the note is $396,593. By using the present value calculator, we see that the present value of this note on Jan. 1, 2014, is $391,443. This value is then a baseline for the note’s purchase price. Depending on the other factors, such as property condition, market interest rates and the borrower’s creditworthiness, the price a note buyer would be willing to pay may be adjusted up or down accordingly.
How can a potential note investor protect himself? If possible, only buy or sell notes to people you can deal with locally. Check the local Better Business Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Web sites.
[Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from website advertiser Michael Episcope, the founder of Origin Investments. It is a bit of a part 2 to his previous, well-received guest post. I have no money invested with Origin at this time but obviously have a financial relationship. However, this is not a sponsored post. I neither pay for nor receive money for guest posts and they are judged solely on quality of the content. If you have chosen to venture outside of index funds for a portion of your portfolio, doing due diligence on your investments is critical to controlling risk and obtaining adequate returns. I learned something from this article that I can apply when doing due diligence on real estate deals and hope you do too.]
Every commercial real estate deal starts with a promise of high returns. But it’s rare for a deal to follow the path of its pro forma. A few will exceed projections, others will fall short and many will actually lose money.
The problem with relying on projections to make investment decisions is that any deal can look great by tweaking one or two variables. So the challenge for investors is trying to figure out which deals will meet or exceed expectations, and which ones will become a “learning” experience.
Most real estate managers build models with good intentions, believing that the assumptions can be achieved. Others build models to appease their investment audience in an effort to attract capital. Projecting real estate returns is an inexact science. There are hundreds of assumptions that go into building a financial model and every input is at the discretion of the manager. By tweaking a couple of variables here and there, a manager can make it look like any deal will work. I’ve yet to see a deal that didn’t work on an Excel spreadsheet.
It’s the manager who decides what price to pay for an asset, how to build value, appropriate capital structure, how to course correct when things go wrong and when to exit. A good manager will be realistic and thoughtful about the assumptions. Finding a real estate manager who will behave reasonably and responsibly is paramount to success in this industry.
That makes asking the right questions critical during the due diligence phase to understand if the manager’s investment strategy fits your personal risk profile. Open-ended questions are great as they force the manager to think about what they are going to say instead of offering up a scripted answer. But you need to listen to cues along the way and read between the lines. Think of this as a job interview, and you’re hiring the manager to be a good steward of your capital and a good partner.
So what to ask? Basic due diligence questions include probing the real estate manager’s historical track record, the quality of their team and their strategy. Simple tactics like a Google search on the company and the company’s principals can also provide valuable information. We’ve put together 10 questions and tactics below that should help give you a telling picture of a real estate manager’s approach, ethics and potential performance.
# 1 Question every assumption – Go Deep!
One of the best ways you can ascertain a manager’s approach is by questioning every assumption in the model. Projections are only as good as the inputs, and every one of them is at the discretion of the manager. How a manager underwrites a deal will be a telling sign of how aggressive or conservative they are.
The first thing to note is the projected IRR. If you look at ten opportunities in the same industry and the IRR projections range between 16% and 19%, what is the likelihood that another sponsor can achieve a 30% IRR? The market is generally efficient, so beware of aggressive marketing tactics. How does the location of the property and its physical attributes stack up against the competition? Is it an apples to apples comparison? Real estate can change dramatically block-by-block, so comparing the property to one that is five miles away may not be appropriate. What rental rates do they need to achieve compared to the market? If competitive properties are achieving $23 rents, why do they think they can get $25 rents?
Set yourself up for success by getting into deals with assumptions that are easily achievable. What is their exit cap rate assumption, and is there a built-in cushion for expanding rates? It’s easy to make a pro forma look great by simply tweaking the exit cap rate. Generally, exit cap rates should be 50 to 100 basis points higher than today’s cap rates to account for risk. [Editor’s Note: Remember if the buying capitalization rate is higher than the selling cap rate, you get a higher return than if the opposite situation occurs.] Make sure that the value creation is not financially engineered.
Good managers create value by increasing net operating income. How are they going to achieve this? Net operating income is impacted most by occupancy and rental rates. What is their assumed growth rate of revenue and how do they determine it? What is their terminal occupancy rate? Every pro forma has an occupancy assumption at stabilization. Make sure the property is in line with the rest of the market, or slightly below it.
How do they treat expenses such as property taxes and are they applying a realistic inflation rate to all of the expenses? Property tax increases can have a big impact on the bottom line. Make sure the sponsor is resetting them based on the new purchase price and not using historical figures. They will go up, and sometimes substantially.
Most importantly, what is their business plan and do you believe it is realistic? Use a common sense approach. Can a class A property also be home to low income renters? A business plan should be easy to understand and make sense intuitively.
If you can’t get past this section, don’t bother with the other 9 questions below.
# 2 “How much of your money are you investing in the deal?”
Alignment is everything. Your manager should be investing a significant amount of his or her own capital (not capital funded by others) right along with you. And the bulk of his or her earnings should come from investment returns — not transactional fees. “Skin in the game” ensures that they are motivated by the right outcome. You want them to win when you win, and lose when you lose.
# 3 “What is your competitive advantage in the market?”
What does the manager believe his or her team does better than anyone else in the market? If they don’t have a competitive advantage, then why invest with them? A competitive advantage is generally something quantifiable. For example, if their competitive advantage is in sourcing opportunities, then how many deals do they look at before they pick the best ones to do, and where do they find them? If it’s in operations, then they should be able to benchmark themselves against an industry standard.
# 4 “How do you ensure that my capital is protected in a down market?”
What is it about their strategy and their track record that makes you feel comfortable? Have they consistently beaten their own projections? How much leverage do they use? Some avenues to explore here include the following:
- Ask about their underwriting and how they take into account a rising interest rate market and a rising cap rate environment. You don’t have to agree with them on which way interest rates are going, but every model should account for higher rates because that’s where the risk lies. And real estate investing is all about protecting against the downside.
- Do they cross collateralize assets? Cross-collateralization of assets is when one asset is used to guarantee the debt on another asset. In a fund structure, assets should not be cross collateralized because it destroys diversification and magnifies risk. This practice played a large part in why investors lost so much money during the financial crisis. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in debt funds, so read the fine print.
- How much leverage do they use? Used responsibly, leverage can enhance returns. But beware of deals that are financially engineered with mezzanine debt and preferred equity.
- Do they personally guarantee loans? Personally guaranteeing loans can be catastrophic for a manager and the investors if that loan gets called. How much do they charge the deal or the fund for that guarantee?
# 5 “How can the deal lose money?”
Every deal can lose money, and you generally won’t find this question addressed in the materials the manager provides. Listen for a sincere, well-reasoned answer. A good manager will have thought this through. Ask them for a stress test model to better understand the “what if” scenarios. Question the assumptions in the model. The easiest one to question is the exit capitalization rate. A good manager will assume a higher capitalization rate at exit to account for rising interest rates, the age of the building and potentially lower lease terms. For example, if the market capitalization rate today is 6%, then the exit capitalization rate should be between 6.5% and 7%. If the manager doesn’t follow this rule, then the other assumptions probably are not realistic either.
# 6 “Tell me about your worst deal and what you learned.”
This is always a telling question that’s worth the time. Do they take ownership for the loss? Every manager has a bad deal in their past. It’s your job to decide if it was an ill-conceived business plan or the function of a bad market. Did they communicate to investors during this period? This is important because how they treated the investor during this period is an indicator of their integrity. Ask to speak with one of the investors in that deal to verify their story. Did they do anything for the investors in that deal? Again, you are trying to vet their integrity. While no one is obligated to go above and beyond what they state in their documents, an honest manager will have done something to make amends.
# 7 “Can I speak with one of your current investors AND someone who no longer invests with you?”
Try to pick a random investor instead of one they give you. Generally, you won’t learn much from a current investor, but you can from speaking with a former investor. What was their experience? Would they recommend the manager? If you really want to get creative, get in touch with one of their former employees through LinkedIn and ask them about the company.
# 8 “How is your company funded?”
This question is designed to determine whether or not the company has ample cash flow to pay the bills. Is there risk that they will go out of business? What does their balance sheet look like? If the project runs out of money, will they lean on you for additional capital? Avoid managers who operate on shoestring budgets or are just starting out. If you are buying into a fund, it’s best to wait until Fund II or III, after the kinks have been worked out. But whether investing through a fund or not, experience matters and it may be best to wait until the management team is more experienced and better financed.
# 9 “How’s your team incentivized? How do you retain team members? What’s your retention rate of key team members?”
Making sure that the team is aligned through performance is also critical. Conflicts of interest are prevalent in this industry and minimizing them is important. One way to do so is by making sure that the team is compensated based on performance and not on the transaction. Also make sure that the team that’s in place today is the same one that was responsible for delivering the manager’s historical returns.
# 10 “What is included in all your fees?”
This question often makes managers uncomfortable. Is the deal a fee frenzy, or is it reasonable? Make sure you ask about every fee throughout the structure. Sometimes fees are buried in other LLCs below the investment entity. Ask for an organizational chart, and then inquire about fees in each and every one.
Just because a manager may not meet every criteria on this list in a way that satisfies your expectations, doesn’t mean they should be written off. But do listen for cues in their answers that shed light on their honesty and integrity. Does it sound like they are hiding something? Unfortunately, too many deals get funded with nothing more than great marketing materials. And there are many unqualified investment professionals in today’s market passing themselves off as experts.
Don’t commit your hard-earned capital without taking the time to get to know a manager on a personal level. Only then can you be sure you are investing with true professionals in every sense of the word. It’s better to be with a great manager in a good deal than in a great deal with a bad manager. Most importantly, don’t fall in love with a deal and then justify the manager. That’s the tail wagging the dog. Any deal can look great on paper and, prior to forming Origin, I learned this lesson the hard way.
What do you think? How do you do due diligence on real estate investments? How do you balance the need to do due diligence on managers with the need to diversify with various managers? Comment below!
Such transactions were almost unheard of a few years ago. But the way of doing business in the real estate sector is changing rapidly. With buyers viewing properties through virtual tours, using FaceTime with their real estate agents and even drone inspections, consumers can do their real estate homework from literally half a world away.
“I sold six houses last year that the buyer never stepped foot in,” said Holly Hack, broker/owner of Exit Realty based in Traverse City.
Digital technology and the internet continue to generate rapid change in the real estate sector. An industry where professionals once held most of the market information, potential buyers traipsed across communities to view properties and attended all sorts of meetings to close a deal has been forever changed by the digital age.
These days most any real estate listing is readily available online, properties can be viewed from a home, office or smart phone and documents are easily transferred and signed digitally. Hack said while this region doesn’t set the technology trends like the markets on the East and West coasts and places like Florida, it doesn’t take long for northern Michigan to catch up.
Hack embraces the changes. Her office went paperless five years ago, reducing costs and paper waste, and her business card is available in a phone app.
She typically communicates with customers via texting, as emails and phone calls are on the wane. She also notes other environmental benefits from technology, including the elimination of countless car trips by buyers, sellers and agents to show and view properties. It also expedites the process of a property deal, which can be handled in days and even hours instead of weeks or longer.
“Everyone wants things immediately — we expect things to happen quicker today,” she said. “We’re trying to make the customer’s experience better.”
Still, Hack has a soft spot for the traditional real estate deal.
“I love showing houses … I like going out to meet people,” she said. Handwritten thank you notes also are a regular part of her day. She writes up to a dozen to clients and customers each week.
Hack also is a long-time student of the region’s real estate market, having grown up in Traverse City and working as a lender before getting into the real estate business. She sees a tight housing market, especially with lower-end properties, as people are staying in their homes longer and the construction of new homes in the aftermath of the recession hasn’t kept pace with the demand.
Interest rates are also starting to rise, which impacts the housing market as it reduces the price point for some buyers as financing costs eat up more of their buying power. The region’s real estate market remains strong, Hack said, but various economic factors will continue to affect both buyers and sellers.
Changing technologies and advancements also will continue to make real estate professionals evolve their way of doing business. Hack said people in her industry have little choice but to adapt to the new way of working.
“You’re either going to embrace it and move forward, or you’re going to be left in the dust,” she said.
SAN DIEGO – San Diego County’s real estate market kicked into high gear last month with increases in both prices and sales, the California Association of Realtors reported Monday.
The median price of a single-family home that changed hands in the San Diego region in March was $571,000, 2 percent more than the month before and 3.8 percent above the same month last year.
The number of houses sold skyrocketed 42.3 percent compared to February and was 8.2 percent higher than March 2016, the CAR reported.
The San Diego performance matched the statewide figures.
“March’s solid sales performance was likely influenced by the specter of higher interest rates, which may have pushed buyers off the sidelines and (to) close escrow before rates moved higher,” CAR President Geoff McIntosh said. “The strong housing demand, coupled with a shortage of available homes for sale, is pushing prices higher as would-be buyers try to purchase before affordability gets worse.”
The median price of a house in California last month was $517,020, 8 percent more than February and 6.8 percent above the level of March 2016. The number of houses that changed owners statewide in March moved up by 4 percent over the month before and 6.9 percent over the same period last year.
For condominiums and townhomes in the state, the median price last month was $430,620, 5.8 percent above the previous month and a 7.6 percent hike over the same month in 2016. Condo sales climbed 46.8 percent statewide in March over February, and were 6 percent higher than March last year.
According to the CAR, a 12 percent drop in new listings from last year, combined with the increased sales, dropped the state’s unsold housing inventory to its lowest level this year, and the third-lowest level in more than three years.
The CAR’s index of unsold inventory, which measures the number of months needed to sell the supply of homes on the market in California at the current sales rate, dropped to three months in March from four in February. The index stood at 3.6 months in March 2016.
The median number of days it took to sell a single-family home in the state fell from 33.5 days in February to 26.7 days in March, and was down from 29.9 days in March 2016.
By City News Service / Patch file photo
Get free real-time news alerts from the San Diego Patch.
So you decided to get into the note investing game via buying non performing notes or performing notes. Now let us look at 34 ways you can improve a note.
Improve Your Promissory Note – Early Payoff
1. Early Payoff
Many times a note is paid off in full in advance of the time that it is scheduled to. The average life of a 30 year loan tends to be 7 to 10 years.
2. Early Payoff with a Discount
Offering a small to large discount will many times entice a person to pay a note off early. Example, buy a $10,000.00 note for $6,000.00 and have the payor pay it off for $7,500.00.
3. Early Payoff Refinance (Them)
If the payor doesn’t have the cash, show them how they can finance the property and even lower their payments by taking advantage of the discount that you are offering them.
4. Early Payoff Refinance (Investor)
If the payor of the note lacks the ability to finance the property, you or another investor could finance the property by co-signing for the payor or by taking title, financing and then re-selling to the payor on a wrap.
5. Early Payoff Discount Underlying
You may be able to negotiate a discount on underlying loans as an enticement for an early payoff on your note.
6. Early Payoff Over-finance
By financing more than the amount needed to pay off your note at a discount, the payor may be able to pocket some cash.
7. Early Payoff Over-finance – Invest the Difference
The payor could finance more than the amount needed to pay your note off at a discount and the difference can be invested in some paper. The net result to the payor is a discount on his note and a lower net payment as well as the ownership of some good paper. The result to you would be a profit on your note as well as a commission on the sale of another note to the payor.
8. Partial Payoff Partial Subordination
For a partial payoff on the note the investor could agree to subordinate to new financing. The investor’s yield (rate of return) on the cash investment he has in the note would increase dramatically.
9. Partial Payoff Lower Interest
In exchange for a partial payoff the interest rate and payment could be lowered. The cash investment in the note would have a very good yield.
Improve Your Promissory Note – Restrucure Terms
1. Lower Interest Raise Payment
The payor raises his payment in exchange for a lower interest rate. The investor’s yield increases substantially and the payor saves a great deal of interest charges.
2. Lower Interest Graduate Payment
In exchange for a payment that increases each year, the rate is lowered. The payor saves interest and the investor increases his yield and cash flow.
3. Graduate Payment – Eliminate Balloon
For a gradual yearly increase in the payment, the investor will eliminate a balloon payment, which will also increase his yield.
4. Graduate Payment – Shorten Amortization
The payor may agree to a gradual yearly increase in the payment just for the difference it would make in the length of the loan and the amount of interest it would save.
5. Raised Payment – Pop Balloon
A balloon payment could be eliminated in exchange for a raise in the monthly payment.
6. Raise Payment – Balloon Extension
In exchange for a raise in the payment, the balloon payment could be extended for a longer period of time.
7. Wrap Your Loan
The payor may be in need of cash or may be behind in payments and you can loan the money in exchange for increasing the rate slightly on the entire note.
8. Bad Note – Fix Terms or Clauses
There is a great deal of potential in changing bad terms or clauses of a note. Many undesirable notes can become very desirable with minor modification. Most of the time it is a win-win situation for all involved. If a note has a problem, don’t look at it as a negative point. Could you buy the note and change the clause? Be sure to negotiate before the purchase.
Improve Your Promissory Note – Collaterizing/Financing
1. Collateralize – Financial Institution
Banks and other financial institutions will loan against paper. They may loan more than the cost of the note and at a lower interest rate. That means 100% financing and a positive cash flow.
2. Collateralize – Investor
Another source of financing is with private investors. One on one transactions and syndications are used to fund paper.
3. Collateralize – Partial Interests
Several investors can be sold partial interests in a note. This can amount to 100% financing of the cost of the note and an interest in the note left over for you.
4. Collateralize – Seller
If the note seller doesn’t need all cash, you can give him part cash and a note secured by his own note or by another note or property. This way you can give him a higher price and still get the yield that you need.
Improve Your Promissory Note –Trading (Collateralizing)
1. Trade – Real Estate
By buying notes at a discount and then trading them or using them as collateral at their full face value, you can effectively buy real estate at very deep discounts (20 to 45% below market value).
2. Trade – Personal Property
You can also trade paper at face value for all kinds of personal property such as cars, boats, etc.
3. Trade – Face Value for Discounted
It is also possible to trade good paper at face value for less desirable paper at a discounted value. Expertise in dealing with notes, collection procedures and solving problems can turn that note into a more desirable note.
4. Overtrading – Bank
Using the spread in the interest rates to make you a profit and solve a problem for your banker is what is involved in this technique. The banker makes you a loan secured by paper that you own or are acquiring and in exchange you buy some of his repossessed merchandise (which ends up free to you).
Improve Your Promissory Note – Underlying Loans
1. Wrap Underlying – Reinstate
If your loan of an underlying loan is behind in payments, that can be the opportunity to advance some money at a high rate of yield. It can occur by “wrapping” the underlying loan or loans at a higher rate of interest.
2. Wrap Underlying – Loan Money
If the payor is in need of cash, you can loan them money and use that as an opportunity to wrap the underlying loans and increase your yield.
3. Buy Underlying – Bank
The most ideal note for you to try and buy is the one that lies beneath any note that you already own. Even banks will occasionally sell notes at a discount. It is always worth asking about.
4. Buy Underlying – Private
Always contact any private note holders that own a note that is on a property that you have a note on.
5. Refinance Underlying – Discount
Negotiate a discount with underlying loans and then finance the property. You can then sell it back to the payor on a wrap-around. Possibly at better terms than he already had.
6. Refinance Underlying – 100%
In refinancing the underlying loan or loans, you may be able to finance out the cost of your note also, so that you have all of your cash out of the property and still have a profit coming in from the note (the wrap).
7. Refinance Underlying – Over-finance
You might also finance the note and underlying loans for more than the amount of your cost on the note. It could be possible to walk away with cash and even share some with the payor or lessen his terms in some way.
8. Refinance Underlying – Lower Rate
Many times it is possible to refinance one of the underlying loans at a lower interest rate and better terms than presently exists, especially in the case of second loans. Profits in cash flow or cash could be shared with the payor.
9. Refinance Underlying – Partial Pay – Lower Interest
In refinancing underlying loans, you might be able to get a lower interest rate and also some of your cost of the note back.
The chart that follows is what I call the P.A.M. chart, which stands for Paper Analysis Matrix. When I buy or an considering buying a note, I analyze it using the chart and what possible techniques are available to improve the note.
||EARLY PAYOFF EARLY PAYOFF WITH A DISCOUNT
||EARLY PAYOFF REFINANCE (THEM)
||EARLY PAYOFF REFINANCE (INVESTOR)
||EARLY PAYOFF DISCOUNT UNDERLYING
||EARLY PAYOFF OVER-FINANCE
||EARLY PAYOFF OVER-FINANCE – INVEST THE DIFFERENCE
||PARTIAL PAYOFF PARTIAL SUBORDINATION
||PARTIAL PAYOFF LOWER INTEREST
||LOWER INTEREST RAISE PAYMENT
||LOWER INTEREST GRADUATE PAYMENT
||GRADUATE PAYMENT – ELIMINATE BALLOON
||GRADUATE PAYMENT – SHORTEN AMORTIZATION
||RAISED PAYMENT – POP BALLOON
||RAISE PAYMENT – BALLOON EXTENSION
||WRAP YOUR LOAN
||UGLY DUCKLING TURNS TO A SWAN
||COLLATERALIZE – FINANCIAL INSTITUTION
||COLLATERALIZE – INVESTOR
||COLLATERALIZE – PARTIAL INTERESTS
||COLLATERALIZE – SELLER
||TRADE – REAL ESTATE
||TRADE – PERSONAL PROPERTY
||TRADE – FACE VALUE FOR DISCOUNTED
||OVERTRADING – BANK
||WRAP UNDERLYING – REINSTATE
||WRAP UNDERLYING – LOAN MONEY
||BUY UNDERLYING – BANK
||BUY UNDERLYING – PRIVATE
||REFINANCE UNDERLYING – DISCOUNT
||REFINANCE UNDERLYING – 100%
||REFINANCE UNDERLYING – OVER-FINANCE
||REFINANCE UNDERLYING – LOWER RATE
||REFINANCE UNDERLYING – PARTIAL PAY – LOWER INTEREST