5/20/2016

Financing Energy Efficient Property Improvements via the HERO Program (aka PACE)

The clue to how these programs work when purchasing qualifying energy efficient improvements is in the name:  Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE).  These particular programs are NOT loans or leases, they are County-approved financing programs whereby a bond is issued to the lender for projects permanently affixed to a property, repaid through property taxes.  Homeowners repay financing annually through an assessment on their property tax bill.  The projects could be solar panels, windows, doors, air conditioning and heating, to name a few.

While the attraction is in the no-money down for specific residential improvements (there are commercial programs as well),  the prospective customer should read the fine print before purchasing.  Under these HERO/PACE programs, the are liens placed on the homeowner's real estate tax bill which, because it's a property tax assessment, takes priority over a home loan. Should the homeowner wish to sell or re-finance, be aware that FNMA and Freddie Mac--source of most conventional mortgages--are prohibited by the Federal Housing Finance Agency from purchasing a mortgage loan on that property until the entire lien is paid off or does not have priority over a first mortgage lien.  (FYI:  most mortgages are sold to those entities.)   Here are additional words of warning from Kevin Nunn, a lender in the Sacramento area:
If the system is owned make sure it is not financed through one of the PACE programs that are being promoted right now. Homeowners are led to believe these “assessments” will just transfer over to a new buyer. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been very clear that they will not purchase a loan with these “assessments” in place. It often comes as a very big surprise to owners and Realtors that the PACE must be paid off or they may only be able to sell to a cash buyer.
 On a Los Angeles County property tax bill, the lien assessment would be located under "Direct Assessments" section.  Some examples of how the assessment will appear are WRCOG Hero, LACEP RES PACE, LACEP RES 2016, LACEP COMM or California Hero to name a few.

If the homeowner stops making property tax payments, the assessment becomes a priority lien in front of a new first trust deed.  Also, when selling, the seller under California Association of Realtors purchase contracts, is required to make a disclosure to the buyer during escrow of any type of lien or lease of equipment on the property.  As an involuntary lien, it will also show up on a preliminary title report passed to the buyer during escrow, at which point the buyer may decided he/she doesn't want to pay an annual $3000.00 assessment in addition to regular property taxes.  

The seller or buyer may pay off the lien before close of escrow  (assuming the buyer is willing and able), or the amount may be split between them.  

While these programs have been most popular in the Inland Empire, they are now approved in Los Angeles County and almost all cities in  LA County, including Long Beach.  

However, there are other owned or leased equipment programs which are in place based on different criteria, and may be less complicated than those under HERO/PACE programs, so be sure to check the difference.

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