Mortgage rates continue to be low – hovering around 3% to 4% for a 30-yr fixed rate mortgage – and borrowers have a renewed interest in seeing if they can refinance. Borrowers across the nation are wondering if it is the right time to buy a home or refinance. Before you apply, be sure you do your homework to ensure it makes sense financially, and to see if you’re actually able to do it. In many areas home prices have fallen and mortgage underwriting has become a lot more stringent, making it especially difficult to get approved for a mortgage.
If your current rate is in the 4% range for a 30-yr fixed rate loan, it may make sense to obtain a 15-yr mortgage in the 3% or lower area. This is especially true if you plan to stay in your home for the long haul. The cost of refinancing has gone up, so spreading this expense over a number of years can make sense – but usually not for someone who is only going to keep their home for a short period. Ask your lender to run the numbers.
Assuming you do decide to refinance, check your credit scores long before you begin the process. If your credit scores aren’t in great shape, you may not be able to qualify. But if your scores are looking good, try your best not to apply for credit cards or any other type of loan, or making big charges on existing lines of credit, as events like that have a negative impact on your credit profile. You should also check your property value. Without equity (the house being worth more than the loans on it) it will be nearly impossible to refinance unless you’re able to take advantage of one of the government programs or bring cash in at closing (cash in refinance).
Other things to keep in mind prior to refinancing are, “Is your property listed for sale?” (It should not be.) Is there a prepayment penalty on your current mortgage? There are other considerations, but give your lender a call – they can help.
Our borrowers will often ask their agent, “Are mortgage points good or bad?” For starters, let’s define “points,” as they are often misunderstood. A mortgage point is defined as a percentage of the loan amount, so if you take out a $150,000 mortgage, one (1) mortgage point would be $1,500. That is pretty simple, but there are different definitions of a mortgage point, as both mortgage discount points and loan origination fees are often thrown under the same umbrella and they are not the same nor treated equally.
A mortgage “discount point” is pre-paid interest included in closing costs that lowers your mortgage rate. This occurs when you buy down your interest rate. A loan origination fee is a fee that covers certain closing costs and the loan officer’s commission.
With that in mind, the fewer points you pay the better, right? Not necessarily - if you pay less at closing and more over the life of the loan thanks to a higher mortgage rate, you’re not paying less. Our agents will tell our clients that for those who plan to stay in their home for the long-haul and pay off the mortgage, paying mortgage discount points could be considered a good move. Conversely, if our borrowers plan to stay in their home for just a short period, or think they’ll refinance again in the near future, paying mortgage points is probably bad news.
When it comes to loan origination points, paying less is usually better. This is essentially just more commission for the originating bank or mortgage lender, so be sure to discuss fees with your agent. But often a particular loan is more complicated than another, and requires more processing and/or underwriting time. The lender needs to be compensated for their work, but be sure you know how much they’re getting and why.
Most borrowers are very well aware of the stock and bond markets. In fact, most people have a relatively fixed number of investment opportunities available to them. These include keeping their money in cash, buying property, buying bonds, or buying stocks. Currently anyone keeping their money in cash (in the bank, for example, in a savings account) knows that the interest that they are earning is very little – probably near 0%. But it is safe, up to the insured FDIC limits. Of course, no one knows what the stock markets are going to do over the next year, or the next ten years. But currently, if a person was to purchase the 30 stocks that make up the Dow Jones index, the dividend yield on the Dow is approximately 3%. If one were to buy a 10-yr Treasury Note, it pays an interest rate of about 3.00%. Therefore the dividend yield is about the same as the current yield on the benchmark U.S. Treasury note. Of course, both go up and down on a daily basis.
But let’s say that one could earn more money in dividends than on the 10-yr Treasury note. What this means is that if the Dow’s stocks, and their dividends, go absolutely nowhere over the next 10 years, and no dividends are cut, they will still outperform Treasury notes. Which doesn’t necessarily make either asset class a good investment: it’s entirely possible that both stocks and bonds are going to go down rather than up over the next decade. So with questions in the stock and bond markets, and cash earning very little, many are returning to examining real estate as a very viable investment. Given what their cash in the bank is owning, borrowers are placing an increased number of calls to lenders and are taking a new look at primary residences, 2nd homes, or investment properties. Given how low mortgage rates are, it is certainly an option worth discussing with any of our highly trained staff.
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“Do you think an adjustable rate mortgage is a good idea?” The answer, of course, is, “It depends.”
Over the long term (years) rates are expected to creep higher. So a key factor in deciding upon an adjustable rate mortgage is how long a borrower will be paying a higher rate of interest in the future with the ARM versus what a borrower would pay with a fixed rate mortgage today.
The obvious advantage of the ARM is the lower interest rate and payment for the initial period the rate is fixed before it converts to an adjustable rate. Note that the straight ARM, one that can adjust every month, is pretty much gone from the market place. The ARMs that are available in the current market are what are known as hybrid-ARMs in that the initial rate is fixed for a period of time, 3, 5, 7 or 10 years, and then adjust annually thereafter.
Borrowers should be asked, “Are you a good money manager?”, “Are you in a profession where your income is not always the same, perhaps commission based or self-employed?”, “Is your intention to take advantage of the lower initial rate to pay down your mortgage more rapidly than the fixed rate mortgage?”, and “Is there a reasonably strong certainty you will be selling the home before the fixed rate term of the ARM expires?”
The payment on an ARM is typically significantly lower than on a 30 year fixed – often hundreds less every month depending on loan amount and rate. And if this savings is carried out over several years, the savings would be in the thousands. But after five years, or seven years, will the borrower still be in the home? And will they able to afford the higher payments IF rates move higher and IF they didn’t refinance?
ARMs received a bad reputation as part of the housing and mortgage market melt downs, but much of this was due to the misuse of the ARMs by lenders and borrowers. For many who took out ARMS prior to the meltdown they have benefited from very low rates as their loans convert(ed) from fixed to adjustable and were a good tool. For others who miscalculated on future income, future appreciation or used the ARM to highly leverage into a property they otherwise would not have been able to afford the choice was perhaps not the best one.
Every borrower should discuss their options with an experienced loan officer.
Despite the government’s best efforts, borrowers still are occasionally puzzled by mortgage rates and pricing. They are not as simple as comparing the price of a gallon of regular unleaded gas. (But when gas companies advertise their additives for higher grades, things become more complicated.) But is there an easy way to discuss rates?
When a borrower shops for a home loan, they want to know about mortgage rates and should look at the “APR” or annual percentage rate. The APR includes both the annual interest rate as well as some — but maybe not all — non-interest charges paid at closing. The APR will be higher than the nominal interest rate because it includes additional costs. Most loan quotes include both the interest rate and points (the cost of doing the loan, often considered the up-front compensation to the lender). Points are paid up-front, in cash (or a higher loan amount) at closing. If the borrower expects to be a short-term owner then maybe the loan with a higher rate and fewer points is better; if the borrower expects to be a long-term owner then paying points and having a lower fixed-rate can be very attractive.
Experts and those in the industry usually prefer “par pricing” – par is a price of 100.00 (nothing paid, and nothing to be paid). In this situation all loan quotes show the interest rate with zero points. Now it’s very easy to compare rates. An FHA mortgage at 4.4 percent and an FHA mortgage at 4.6 percent are the same financial product with different costs. Why would you pay more?
So borrowers should ask lenders for a mortgage quote at par; that is, an interest rate with no points. Par pricing remains the easiest way to compare similar loan products, say a conventional loan from ABC Mortgage versus a conventional loan from XYZ Mortgage. The loans are the same, so the only issue is which lender can offer a better price.
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