Underwriting guidelines change all the time. But interestingly, one thing that is somewhat constant is the amount of down payment due at the closing table. Many borrowers find, however, that coming up with the cash for the down payment has perhaps been the biggest obstacle to homeownership.
Seventy-five years ago, banks would only loan money to buy a house if the homebuyer had 30 percent or more of the sales price for the down payment. Even in 1935 when the average price of a home in the United States was $3,400, coming up with $1,000 for a down payment was a challenge. After all, the average income of a worker was just $1,500 per year. But in the 1930s the government decided to step in and help Americans buy their homes, and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) was created to offer prospective homeowners the opportunity to buy a home with a small down payment and a stable 30 year fixed rate loan.
Today, our government, through the FHA, insures lenders who offer FHA loans. These loans have many benefits but probably the most noteworthy is that FHA insured loans allow a homebuyer to buy a home with as little as 3.5 percent down and to borrow as much as $729,750 (in a high-priced housing market) at a competitive 30-year fixed rate. FHA loans are typically more lenient on credit and allow a borrower to spend more of their monthly income on their house payment than conventional loans. They also allow a borrower to receive all of the down payment as a gift.
But FHA-insured loans also have their downsides. For example, FHA loans require mortgage insurance on every loan, despite the size of the down payment, and that mortgage insurance effectively adds up to 1.35 percent to the note rate. In other words, if the 30-year fixed rate today were 3.25 percent, the effective rate for an FHA loan would be over 4.5 percent.
Alternatively, the conventional financing offered by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae requires the borrower to pay for mortgage insurance only if there is less than 20 percent for the down payment. Mortgage insurance may be paid either on a monthly basis or as a lump sum at the close of escrow. The precise payment options are dependent on the loan to value ratio, the loan amount and the credit score. Unlike with the current FHA loans, mortgage insurance on conventional loans does not continue throughout the life of the loan.
As we get move into the spring home buying season, most locations throughout the country have turned into a seller’s market. Although loan officers typically deal with buyers, or people refinancing, LO’s also come in contact with sellers who are buying in the same community. There are several buyer “turn-offs” that sellers should avoid at all costs.
First and foremost is a dirty house. Whether it be replacing carpets for stains and particulates or steam-cleaning tile and grout, the home should be as debris free as possible. The next area for an impression to go awry is smell. The old saying is buyers buy with their noses. Sellers should make sure their home smells fresh and inviting. From kitchen to pet odors as well as anything else, what a seller may perceive to be homey could quickly turn off a buyer.
Sellers should know that old fixtures are another way to scare off buyers, and for new cabinet hardware and doorknobs, the cost is all of $400 or $500, but it makes a huge difference. The same holds true for dated ceiling fans, light fixtures and kitchen appliances. Buyers can take care of these things after closing escrow, but it's going to impede the seller from getting the highest price possible for their home. Also avoid clutter, which can be a distraction.
It appears that today's buyer wants no part of wallpaper. Wallpaper is a pain to remove and simply adds another chore to a buyer's to-do list. Another pain-in-the-rear are popcorn acoustic ceilings; once the must-have for fashionable homes in the '60s and '70s, but now an accessory that badly dates the space.
Also, if your house is cluttered with too many personal items, it's like the buyer is trying on those clothes with you still in them: a fit is unlikely. Decorating to live and decorating to sell are different, and sellers should try to eliminate personal items, including family photos, personal effects and even unique colors.
Loan officers often tell sellers that another bothersome item is owners who want to walk around with the potential buyer and provide advice. On the other hand, curb appeal is critical – it is your house’s first impression. Experienced lenders know that buying, selling, or refinancing a home is very important, and are more than happy to assist and provide recommendations based on their experience.
It is important for anyone buying a home or refinancing to understand a couple basic concepts. For example, the two most important considerations for homebuyers are debt to income ratio and the price vs. rent calculation. Homebuyers first must understand their affordability using a debt-to-income ratio, and then they can evaluate their housing options in their local market by comparing cost to rent vs. buy.
Debt-to-income analysis tells you what percentage of your income you’re going to spend on housing and all other monthly obligations. This is how all U.S. mortgage lenders make loan approval decisions, and although there are other quantitative measures lenders use for loan decisions (such as credit scores or the percentage of the home’s value that will be financed - LTV), the debt-to-income ratio is by far the most important because it looks at the most data.
For housing, monthly debt payments mean highest-case principal and interest on a mortgage payment and property taxes (before tax deductions), homeowners insurance, and mortgage insurance if applicable. For non-housing it means payments on present and future student loans, credit cards, car loans/leases (the present versions of these items come from credit reports) plus child support, alimony, and countless other types of non-housing debt people have hidden in their credit reports, tax returns, and asset account statements. Lenders allow you to spend 40-50% of your income on your debt obligations depending on the loan size and type.
The next step is to understand whether it’s cheaper to rent or buy. Like debt-to-income, it’s all about the numbers at which you are looking. The reason is because people use national figures for home prices and rents, but monthly mortgage payment assumes a 20% down payment at prevailing 30-year-fixed-rate mortgage rates. Their analysis is based on median national asking prices for rents and median mortgage payments based on national listing prices, so when taking this into consideration, know exactly what the numbers mean!
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Consumers want the best price and best value, whether it is with a gallon of gasoline or a mortgage. Most lenders’ business comes to them from referrals, which is a very good thing, and many mortgage loan originators have had years of experience watching borrowers shop for loans. Some shop different lenders as if they could make a selection based on price. Most mortgage borrowers, however, don’t try to shop; they select or are selected by a single lender, which tends to work very well.
Unlike a gallon of milk, or a Big Mac, there are at least two prices: the interest rate and total lender fees. On adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs) there are also rate caps, the rate index used, and the margin over the index. Borrowers should know that an interest rate all by itself means very little. Multiple prices complicate shopping by borrowers when a number of factors enter into the decision: the products can change based on the borrower’s qualifications, the loan-to-value may change based on the appraised value, and the actual rate and price can change from day-to-day, or even during the day, based on bond market fluctuations.
In recent years borrowers have been at a disadvantage during the process since some lenders have exploited clients. They believe that since the borrower is not shopping, the lender can take advantage of them. This is the illegal, and should not be tolerated. Honest lenders believe in total transparency, and will not quote a price to a borrower below the price they are actually willing to accept. Low-balling is endemic on internet-based referral sites which display price quotes by dozens or hundreds of lenders, for example. Potential borrowers should be very careful when searching for a mortgage – it is an important process.
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In most countries 30-yr fixed rate loans are in the minority. Here in the United States, however, the majority of residential mortgages are fixed rate loans with an amortization spread over 30 years – but some argue that might be changing.
Customized mortgages aren’t new. Industry experts say they are seeing more and more borrowers opt for fixed-rate loans with terms other than the standard 30 or 15 years, especially when it comes to refinancing. Last year, nearly 17% of all refinanced mortgages were with “other length” fixed-rate loans, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association, which noted that in August, September and October, the share was 20 percent. Most of those “other length” loans were in 20-year mortgages, though loans are also available for 10, 25 and 40 years, and even for “oddball” terms like 23 or 12 years.
Most borrowers have noticed that the shorter terms are especially valuable to people refinancing after paying down their 30-year mortgage for five or seven years. If they take a 20-year mortgage, they can reduce their interest rate — and the term — and possibly even get a monthly payment the same or slightly lower than before. The 20-year mortgage is becoming so prevalent, banks are starting to sell them off to investors or in the secondary mortgage market. Many customers seeking to refinance ask for odd loan terms to avoid increasing the length of their repayment schedule. Be sure to ask your loan officer for suggestions.
Proponents of 30-yr mortgages counter, however, with the thinking that the Fed is buying primarily 30-yr mortgages, and that they are the benchmark. Both claims are true. But eventually rates will rise (not in the foreseeable future) and intermediate ARM loans, such as 3-yr or 5-yr products, will come back into vogue.
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