Mortgage News: Taking Advantage of Low Rates

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Mortgage News 
Taking Advantage of Low Rates
By VICKIE ELMER of The NYT – 6/14/12

The mortgage market seems to have been dancing its own version of the limbo, as interest rates headed lower and lower for six consecutive weeks.

Although they inched up this past week, home buyers and refinancers may be wondering how low rates can go — and how they can capture the best rates now.

“Mortgage rates tend to fall when there are concerns about the economy,” said Jed Kolko, the chief economist for Trulia, the housing information Web site.

Lately, those concerns have centered on the economic and fiscal woes in Europe, especially in Greece and Spain — along with slow job growth and weaker-than-usual corporate profits in this country, as noted in a recent Freddie Mac market survey.

Many economists are forecasting that mortgage rates will rise again later this year as the American economy gradually improves and as more global investors turn to the United States as a safe haven for their money.

“It’s really tough for rates to go much lower,” said Cristian de Ritis, the director of Moody’s Analytics. “It’s almost unbelievable that you can get a 30-year mortgage at that rate.”

The average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage fell to a record 3.67 percent nationwide in Freddie Mac’s June 7 survey, though it rose to an average 3.71 percent on Thursday. The rate had averaged 3.9 percent just three months earlier and 4.5 percent a year earlier.

Mr. Kolko said the uptick was not entirely unexpected. “We’re in the midst of so much short-term uncertainty,” he said, adding that “no single week-over-week change can be taken as the start of a long-term trend.”

Mr. de Ritis said that rates could possibly fall further, perhaps as much as a quarter of a percentage point, but he added that it was more likely that they would start “a slow drift” upward. In six months, the rate on the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage could be at 3.8 to 3.9 percent, he predicted, and a year from now, 4.1 to 4.2 percent.

“If the economy does recover more aggressively than what we think, or what investors think,” he said, “then the Fed will likely raise rates.” The next two Federal Reserve Open Market meetings, which determine credit policy, are scheduled for June 19 and 20 and July 31 and Aug. 1.

Those planning to refinance or buy a home in the next two or three months, meanwhile, might want to consider locking in their mortgage rate now.

Borrowers with rate lock-ins, with a built-in deadline, often receive priority treatment from lenders, according to Russell Tucker, a senior vice president of Investor Home Mortgage in Short Hills, N.J. By having a lock-in, he said, a borrower is telling the lender that he or she is serious about closing soon. “If you’re not willing to lock in the interest rates,” Mr. Tucker said, “you’re not doing the push-ups.”

Lock-in costs and policies vary widely, and are based partly on the time frame you want covered.

Most people will need a 60- to 90-day lock. In New York State, especially, refinancing can take longer if the borrower is transferring the balance on a loan to a new lender to avoid paying a second mortgage transfer tax, a process known as “mortgage assignment.”

If interest rates continue to fall during the lock period, borrowers can ask their lenders to rewrite the rate lock, at an additional cost, or they can obtain a “float-down” provision in the original agreement, industry experts say. A lock with a float-down agreement allows the borrower to change the rate, often only once, before closing on the mortgage. This option is generally more expensive than a standard lock.

Although mortgage rates are at historic lows, borrowers need to understand that the advertised rates are generally for those with the best credit. “If your credit is in the mid-600s instead of the mid-700s, that could be as much as an extra percentage point on your mortgage rate,” Mr. Kolko said, referring to the widely used FICO credit score.

And if you’re in the New York area and borrowing more than $625,500 — the maximum allowed for loans resold to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac — you will be obtaining a “jumbo” loan, which tends to carry higher rates.

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