Quoted on Motley Fool on Choosing a Mortgage Broker and the Effects of Interest Rate Changes on Mortgages

Recently the personal finance site Motley Fool asked me to answer some questions related to choosing a mortgage lender and the effect of interest rate changes on mortgages. Following are my responses.

How can homebuyers feel more confident when choosing a mortgage lender?

The first thing to understand about home lenders is that many of the companies that advertise mortgage loans are not really lenders. They are brokers. The money is not coming from them — it is coming from a lender (to whom the broker takes the loan). As an example, I financed my last mortgage through Right Choice Mortgage. However, the loan was made to me from Glendale Credit Union.

The second thing to understand is that even if you go directly to a lender, the lender may still act as a broker. A lender, such as Bank of America, could give you a mortgage. But they could just as easily “sell off” the mortgage to a group of investors in the mortgage aftermarket. Why? Because this frees up the bank’s capital to make more loans.

Who you choose to help you obtain a mortgage really depends on two things: 1) Your personal financial situation and, 2) What sort of relationship you want with a mortgage lender. If you have a complex personal financial situation, such as having multiple sources of income, being self-employed, having investment properties, and owning LLCs, or previous bankruptcies, you may find that some mortgage companies don’t want to bother working with you (because it will take more time and effort to get your mortgaged approved). Also, many of the large automated or semi-automated mortgage companies where you apply online don’t have the right “boxes” on their application for you to explain everything. You can end up in a quagmire of endless frustration working with these companies.

Even if you have a straightforward financial situation, you still must decide what sort of relationship you want with the mortgage company. Are you okay doing everything online or do you need to fill out forms by hand? Do you want to speak to the same person every time or are you okay with talking to whichever one of the hundreds of people in the call center answers the phone? Do you need someone who can walk you through the process and explain things to you, or are you an old “mortgage pro” who understands how the system works? Making the right decision will make your mortgage application process a whole lot easier.

Whoever you choose to work with to get a mortgage, before getting in too deep, find out how they do business and if their style fits in with your needs. Finally, if you do use one of those online brokers, if you can’t find the phone number on the home page, don’t use them.

How do changing interest rates affect mortgages in different communities?

Interest rate changes affect home buying. When interest rates drop, homes become more affordable because loan payments go down. As an example, if you purchased a home for $600,000 (the average price of a home in California) and put 20% down, you would have a $480,000 mortgage. At 3% interest your payment before taxes and insurance would be $2,024. At a 5% interest rate, your payment would be $2,577, or 27% higher. As lenders typically look for your cost of housing to be no more than 30% of your income, lower interest rates should allow more people to get mortgages, and higher interest rates will restrict mortgages.

However, changes in mortgage interest rates do not affect all communities the same. Obviously very rich people, who may still mortgage their homes for tax or financial planning purposes, have few restraints on their ability to get a mortgage. At the lower end of the scale, the least expensive house may continue to sell well when interest rates rise because there are many programs to help underserved and first-time buyers. FHA loans are specifically intended for lower-income, lower-credit, and/or first-time home buyers. This program, which is backed by the Federal Housing Administration, makes it easier to become a homeowner by relaxing the standards borrowers must meet to get a mortgage.

The communities that get hit hardest (or benefit the most) when interest rates change are those communities where the home prices are above average, but not high enough to be of interest to rich people. As an example, in California, that might include communities where the home prices are in the $1 million to $1.5 million range. I recall the recession of 2008, when the value of real estate dropped substantially, there was still demand for the least expensive houses and still demand for mega-mansions of the rich. But those million-dollar homes couldn’t find many buyers.

What’s one tip you would give to members of underserved communities looking to get the best mortgage rate possible?

I offer three tips to members of underserved communities to get the best rates possible. First, do whatever you can to improve your credit score. Even in underserved communities credit scores are one of the primary indicators of credit worthiness used by our financial system.

Second, work with a bank or lender that is familiar with all the programs that are available to underserved communities. Some mortgage companies may not want to use these programs because they may be extra work. Find a mortgage company who can talk frankly to you about those programs that are available and that you can use to your benefit.

Finally, make sure the mortgage company knows that you are a member of an underserved community. Today when we do a lot of business is online or on the phone, it may be difficult for the lender to know that you are a member of an underserved community which under the broad-based definition recently provided by the White House is said to include “people of color and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality.” That definition covers a lot of people.

You can find the original post of the Motley Fool’s website by going to: https://www.fool.com/the-ascent/mortgages/best-mortgage-lenders/ and scrolling down to the section headed “Mortgage Expert Advice.”