Buying or renting a home is a big financial decision. And whether it’s a condo, a townhouse, or a single family residence — new construction or a home with a history — this transaction will have a significant impact on your budget. What do you need to know?
I’ll be posting an ongoing series on Homes & Mortgages, which includes best practices and helpful hints and information to assist you in your financial security.
Information is critical when you are shopping for a mortgage. And it’s equally important to know the consequences of falling behind on your payments and the telltale signs of a foreclosure rescue scam. What about a reverse mortgage? When could it be a good deal — and when can it be a dud?
Shopping for a Mortgage
Shopping around for a home loan or mortgage will help you get the best financing deal. A mortgage — whether it’s a home purchase, a refinancing, or a home equity loan — is a product, just like a car, so the price and terms may be negotiable. You’ll want to compare all the costs involved in obtaining a mortgage. Shopping, comparing, and negotiating may save you thousands of dollars.
A mortgage broker can assist you as opposed to going to a bank, who can only offer you their rates and terms.
Obtain Information from Several Lenders
Home loans are available from several types of lenders. You can get a home loan through a mortgage broker. Brokers arrange transactions rather than lending money directly; in other words, they find a lender for you. A broker’s access to several lenders can mean a wider selection of loan products and terms from which you can choose. Brokers will generally contact several lenders regarding your application, but they are not obligated to find the best deal for you unless they have contracted with you to act as your agent. Consequently, you should consider contacting more than one broker, just as you should with banks or thrift institutions
Obtain All Important Cost Information
Be sure to get information about mortgages from several lenders or brokers. Know how much of a down payment you can afford, and find out all the costs involved in the loan. Knowing just the amount of the monthly payment or the interest rate is not enough. Ask for information about the same loan amount, loan term, and type of loan so that you can compare the information. The following information is important to get from each lender and broker:
- Ask each lender and broker for a list of its current mortgage interest rates and whether the rates being quoted are the lowest for that day or week.
- Ask whether the rate is fixed or adjustable. Keep in mind that when interest rates for adjustable-rate mortgages go up, generally so do the monthly payments.
- If the rate quoted is for an adjustable-rate mortgage, ask how your rate and loan payment will vary, including whether your loan payment will be reduced when rates go down.
- Ask about the loan’s annual percentage rate (APR). The APR takes into account not only the interest rate but also points, broker fees, and certain other credit charges that you may be required to pay, expressed as a yearly rate.
Points are fees paid to the lender or broker for the loan and are often linked to the interest rate; usually the more points you pay, the lower the rate.
- Check your local newspaper for information about rates and points currently being offered.
- Ask for points to be quoted to you as a dollar amount — rather than just as the number of points — so that you will know how much you will actually have to pay.
A home loan often involves many fees, such as loan origination or underwriting fees, broker fees, and settlement (or closing costs). Every lender or broker should be able to give you an estimate of its fees. Many of these fees are negotiable. Some fees are paid when you apply for a loan (such as application and appraisal fees), and others are paid at closing. In some cases, you can borrow the money needed to pay these fees, but doing so will increase your loan amount and total costs. “No cost” loans are sometimes available, but they usually involve higher rates.
- Ask what each fee includes. Several items may be lumped into one fee.
- Ask for an explanation of any fee you do not understand. Some common fees associated with a home loan closing are listed on the Mortgage Shopping Worksheet.
Down Payments and Private Mortgage Insurance
Some lenders require 20 percent of the home’s purchase price as a down payment. However, many lenders now offer loans that require less than 20 percent down — sometimes as little as 5 percent on conventional loans. If a 20 percent down payment is not made, lenders usually require the homebuyer to purchase private mortgage insurance (PMI) to protect the lender in case the homebuyer fails to pay. When government-assisted programs like FHA (Federal Housing Administration), VA (Veterans Administration), or Rural Development Services are available, the down payment requirements may be substantially smaller.
- Ask about the lender’s requirements for a down payment, including what you need to do to verify that funds for your down payment are available.
- Ask your lender about special programs it may offer.
If PMI is required for your loan
- Ask what the total cost of the insurance will be.
- Ask how much your monthly payment will be when the PMI premium is included.
Obtain the Best Deal That You Can
Once you know what each lender has to offer, negotiate the best deal that you can. On any given day, lenders and brokers may offer different prices for the same loan terms to different consumers, even if those consumers have the same loan qualifications. The most likely reason for this difference in price is that loan officers and brokers are often allowed to keep some or all of this difference as extra compensation. Generally, the difference between the lowest available price for a loan product and any higher price that the borrower agrees to pay is an overage. When overages occur, they are built into the prices quoted to consumers. They can occur in both fixed-rate and variable-rate loans and can be in the form of points, fees, or the interest rate. Whether quoted to you by a loan officer or a broker, the price of any loan may contain overages.
Have the lender or broker write down all the costs associated with the loan. Then ask if the lender or broker will waive or reduce one or more of its fees or agree to a lower rate or fewer points. You’ll want to make sure that the lender or broker is not agreeing to lower one fee while raising another or to lower the rate while raising points. There’s no harm in asking lenders or brokers if they can give better terms than the original ones they quoted or than those you have found elsewhere.
Once you are satisfied with the terms you have negotiated, you may want to obtain a written lock-in from the lender or broker. The lock-in should include the rate that you have agreed upon, the period the lock-in lasts, and the number of points to be paid. A fee may be charged for locking in the loan rate. This fee may be refundable at closing. Lock-ins can protect you from rate increases while your loan is being processed; if rates fall, however, you could end up with a less-favorable rate. If that happens, try to negotiate a compromise with the lender or broker.
Remember: Shop, Compare, Negotiate
When buying a home, remember to shop around, to compare costs and terms, and to negotiate for the best deal. Your local newspaper and the Internet are good places to start shopping for a loan. You can usually find information both on interest rates and on points for several lenders. Since rates and points can change daily, you’ll want to check your newspaper often when shopping for a home loan. But the newspaper does not list the fees, so be sure to ask the lenders about them.
This Mortgage Shopping worksheet may also help you. Take it with you when you speak to each lender or broker and write down the information you obtain. Don’t be afraid to make lenders and brokers compete with each other for your business by letting them know that you are shopping for the best deal.
Fair Lending Is Required by Law
The Equal Credit Opportunity Act prohibits lenders from discriminating against credit applicants in any aspect of a credit transaction on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age, whether all or part of the applicant’s income comes from a public assistance program, or whether the applicant has in good faith exercised a right under the Consumer Credit Protection Act.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in residential real estate transactions on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.
Under these laws, a consumer may not be refused a loan based on these characteristics nor be charged more for a loan or offered less-favorable terms based on such characteristics.
Credit Problems? Still Shop, Compare, and Negotiate
Don’t assume that minor credit problems or difficulties stemming from unique circumstances, such as illness or temporary loss of income, will limit your loan choices to only high-cost lenders.
If your credit report contains negative information that is accurate, but there are good reasons for trusting you to repay a loan, be sure to explain your situation to the lender or broker. If your credit problems cannot be explained, you will probably have to pay more than borrowers who have good credit histories. But don’t assume that the only way to get credit is to pay a high price. Ask how your past credit history affects the price of your loan and what you would need to do to get a better price. Take the time to shop around and negotiate the best deal that you can.