In recent months the media has been rife with stories of a meltdown in the mortgage sector. And while reporters are often prone to hyperbole, there’s no denying that the home financing industry is suffering. Mortgage investment funds have faltered, home prices have declined, residential foreclosures are on the rise, and about one hundred nationally operating lenders have closed their doors.
But many homeowners struggle to understand what the current mortgage climate means for them. What caused the current situation? How will the downturn affect them? And what can they do to avoid any negative repercussions when purchasing or refinancing a home?
Recent events within the mortgage industry have fostered a domino effect which has toppled many precariously balanced facets. During the most recent housing boom many borrowers felt emboldened or were encouraged to obtain adjustable rate mortgages on homes which were realistically outside their comfort zone. Some went so far as to adopt Option ARMs and pay a minimum payment which didn’t even cover monthly interest. Unfortunately, as interest rates rose and teaser rates expired, many of these borrowers found themselves in over their heads.
This resulted in growing mortgage delinquencies and foreclosures, fewer first time buyers, and falling home prices as demand dried up. As demand lessened the situation became worse, and the lenders who had originally funded the failing loans were required to take on obligations which homeowners could no longer manage. By 2007 those obligations had reached a breaking point for some lenders, and they began to close their doors.
As often occurs, government regulators and officials reactively weighed in and began examining some of the fast and loose lending tactics which had caused the mess. Lenders have consequently enacted stricter loan requirements and funding obligations to negate the need for government legislation. And while that strategy has reduced future abuses and irresponsibilities, it has done little to assist borrowers who are struggling to keep their homes. It has also curbed the flow of first time buyers even further, which in turn has crimped demand still more.
As a result of these stricter requirements, homeowners and buyers today can expect lenders to be more demanding. The sun is setting on fuzzy income requirements and no-down home loans. And credit score requirements are becoming increasingly strict. Whether you’re looking to refinance or purchase a home, make sure you have some money for closing costs and a down payment, present solid documentation of your income, and take the necessary steps to clean up any credit report discrepancies before you begin the mortgage process. And above all, if you’re buying a home don’t extend beyond your means: it’s better to keep a smaller, less glamorous home than to loose a larger, chic home.
Finding the Right Deal
Over the past few years many lenders and banks have been aggressively marketing to consumers. That’s because it benefits them to work directly with you. But the best way to find the right mortgage today is via a mortgage broker or aggregation service. Working with only one lender can leave you vulnerable to their corporate motives, and unless you’re knowledgeable about the mortgage industry you might end up with a bad deal. And seeking out two or more lenders directly can be stressful and time wasting. A mortgage broker can help you find multiple local and national lenders who can offer the best mortgage deals, regardless of whether you’re purchasing a new home or refinancing an existing one.
But when using a mortgage broker it’s important you don’t jump at any old company. Many brokers have an online presence: but a website alone doesn’t guarantee a bona fide company. Before filling in an online loan application you should look for some important content and links. Is the company a member of the Better Business Bureau and legitimate mortgage organizations like the MBA? Do they offer sensible advice free of charge? Does their website look professional and is it secure? Do they have their finger on the pulse of the mortgage industry? Do they readily provide customer testimonials? Are they available to talk to you over the phone? Only the best brokers can fulfill all of these requirements, and they are the ones who are worthy of your business.
If you’re falling behind on your mortgage payments and even a broker can’t help you, just remember you still have options. Lenders and investors don’t want to be burdened with foreclosed-on properties in today’s market. So call your mortgage company and ask about restructuring your loan. It’s better for your lender if they get a reduced payment over more years than if your home is foreclosed and sits dormant for months.
The mortgage market is changing at a rapid pace, and prospective borrowers are finding it harder to find an affordable and competitive deal because of the lack of restraint of recent years. But with careful preparation and the right broker you can successfully navigate today’s hurdles and find a mortgage which suites your needs for years to come.