One of the cool things I get to do as an instructor on note investing is that I get to interview all types of people who have some form of connection to real estate or note investing in general. Everyone from attorneys, rehabbers and flippers to REO agents, banks, contractors, note buyers and investors — and everyone else in between. I also get to see who some of the best of the best are. Want more articles like this? Create an account today to get BiggerPocket's best blog articles delivered to your inbox Sign up for free So one evening last week, I had the opportunity to interview one of the best asset managers I know, Matthew Kadash. The reason I know this is because Matt works for me at PPR. Our topic that night was: “An asset manager’s view of working first and second liens.” Just to give you some background on Matt: he’s worked at PPR for over 5 years, working with hundreds of delinquent second mortgages, and he’s seen it all. Over the last couple years, he’s been working primarily with first liens as we’ve started to move into the space. So, with a guy who has worked with hundreds of notes, it’s fun to ask him his viewpoints, especially since he has more of an operational and managerial perspective, as opposed to that of an investor with his/her own capital at risk. To get the ball rolling, we started discussing the similarities between first and second mortgages. Interview with an Asset Manager: 1st Lien Mortgages vs. 2nd Lien Mortgages Similarities For example, obviously they’re both notes and mortgages secured by real property with a borrower to reach out to. Both types of notes have their risks and rewards, but what really separates the two is their position. The recording date of each lien defines the position of the note, and this position determines how you manage it. Related: What’s Your Exit Strategy? A Case for Converting Your Real Estate to Paper Assets As far as management, we quickly realized that they really had more differences, including everything from due diligence to exit strategies. Differences The big one is Risk Management. Me: If you own the first lien or if you own the second lien, what are you monitoring in order to protect your lien position? Matt: With first liens the biggest risks are taxes, insurance, and other liens because when you purchase the note, you inherit the lien and the back taxes. Insurance is also an important safety measure to protect the property’s value. With second mortgages, it’s most important to monitor the senior lien, especially since the senior lien holder is already monitoring the other risks mentioned above. Me: What are the variations of due diligence for first liens vs. second liens? What should you really be looking at? Matt: With first liens, Equity and (FMV) Fair Market Value are much more important. Note buyers usually at least get a BPO (Broker’s Price Opinion) when buying first liens. Buyers often get an E&O (Encumbrance and Occupancy) report as well, so as to determine any back taxes or outstanding liens. This varies from second liens, with which we rarely pull BPOs or E&O reports. Our big thing in seconds’ world is credit and maybe an electronic value. Equity is less important than Senior Lien status (e.g. currents) and occupancy (e.g. vacancy is usually less valuable because it isn’t as profitable to exit through the property, especially with an upside down asset). There are many other differences with due diligence as well. For example, bankruptcy is not much of an issue with first liens, as there is little threat of being stripped in a bankruptcy. This is why you can buy many more seconds than firsts when investing in delinquent assets. You can spread your risk around. First liens, on the other hand, are much more consistent with predictable outcomes. The conversation with the homeowner can be much more abrupt and is often quicker as far as exiting a deal. With first liens, there are usually many more local, state, and federal programs available to homeowners. Related: The ABC’s of Real Estate Asset Classes That being said, with second mortgages, it’s more likely that the exit will be through collaboration with the borrower, as opposed to first liens where it’s more likely that the exit will be through the property. Of course, equity and borrower intent both impact which exit strategy will be employed. Exit Strategies By exit strategies, what I’m referring to is how the asset manager is able to exit the deal. This could be anything from a discounted payoff, a payment plan, a short sale, or foreclosure, etc. It’s much more common to have more REOs and DILs (Deeds-in Lieu of Foreclosure) with first liens than with seconds. Also, seconds tend to take longer to exit, but you have a better likelihood of a work out agreement with the homeowner. You also normally have a bigger discount that you can share with the homeowner to get something done if they want to try to stay in the home. And although your exits are more predictable with firsts, it does require more creativity when it comes to exiting a deal. Everything from lease backs, rent to own, owner financing, and rehab funding to finding investor/buyers nationwide through REO agents, or any other means possible. As I was winding the interview down, I asked him the million-dollar question: “What would you rather manage, second liens or firsts?” He said seconds, since he likes having more assets to work with, with more upside potential. I’m not so sure I agree, especially when starting out with my own money. Unlike Matt, who doesn’t have any capital in the game, I think I’d like to take the safer and more predictable road of working a delinquent first mortgage. After all, buying a first is almost like buying a property, especially since a higher percentage of them are vacant. So whether you’re looking for a way to cash flow without tenants or to find some bank owned deals ahead of the REO and sheriff sale market, hopefully the perspective of Matt the Asset Manager can be of some help to you. I am very curious to hear some other BP folks’ opinions on this topic. If you’re already an investor in notes, which do you prefer to manage (first or second liens)? If not, would you be more inclined to manage one over the other? Weigh in in the comments below, and let’s talk!