"I feel like I'm in a jungle," said Pat Evers of her experience with shared appreciation mortgages.
But pairing up with an investor and agreeing to share the profit later is the only way she could afford to buy her apartment in Alexandria's River Towers.
The 508-unit complex went condo this spring, and Evers had until Aug. 5 to buy her $74,000 apartment at the $10,000 tenant discount.
Evers, 35, earns $18,000 a year as a program analyst trainee for the Navy Department and has two young children. She couldn't afford the $5,250 down payment and closing costs nor the $1,003 monthly payment.
So she answered a newspaper ad by the real estate firm Long & Foster about their shared appreciation mortgage program.
Eventually -- three weeks after Evers signed the sales contract -- a California investor was found who agreed to pay $453 of the monthly payment as well as the down payment and closing costs. In exchange, the investor wants 75 percent of the condo's appreciated value after one year.
That means Evers will have to sell her apartment in a year, buy out the investor or get the investor to extend the agreement.
In addition to most of the appreciation, the investor gets 55 percent of the tax deductions for mortgage interest and property tax payments.
The whole thing is complicated further by the fact that the $188-a-month condo fee is expected to go up 9 percent next year, and the mortgage Evers has applied for is one of the new adjustable-rate mortgages. That means the interest portion of the monthly payment could go up next year.
So even if the investor were willing to extend the agreement, Evers may need more help with the monthly payment.
"I don't know what I'm getting into," she said. She's unhappy with the 75-25 profit split and the short, one-year agreement, but said that's the only way she could buy her apartment.
"It's been a frightful experience," Evers said. "I've got to plan for my kids' college education, and I thought this was one way to do it."
Evers doesn't have that much to worry about, said her Long & Foster agent Dick Fischer. "Her portion of the tax benefits will, in effect, lower her monthly payment from $550 to $440. And if the condo appreciates 15 percent over the next year he called that a conservative estimate she would get 25 percent of the profit, which comes to almost $4,000," Fischer said.
In fact, Evers was lucky to get an investor, considering how much help she needed with the monthly payment, he added.
Fischer said his firm has matched investors with four other tenants at River Towers who otherwise couldn't have purchased their apartments.
Each agreement was custom-made by both the investor and the tenant, he said. Generally, if the investor put up the down payment and closing costs but did not contribute to the monthly payment, the appreciation will be split 50-50 after a year. If the investor chipped in for the monthly payment as well, he or she gets more of the profit -- in Evers' case, 75 percent.
Fischer said it is "somewhat" difficult to find investors because IRS rules on such transactions are hazy. "I can't tell an investor exactly how the IRS will treat the arrangement." Some unanswered tax questions, he said, are: Can investors take depreciation deductions (if they do, tenant-buyers lose their tax benefits), and what expenses can investors deduct?
The uncertainty scares off some investors. "Depreciation deductions is one thing that makes real estate a good investment," Fischer said. "If investors aren't sure they can take it, they may back out."