Negotiating Real Estate Fees

office-negotiationPolicyGenius quoted me in 5 Mortgage Loan Fees and Rates You Should Always Negotiate. It opens,

When it comes to making major purchases or financial decisions, we always hear that mantra, “Everything is negotiable.” You can haggle with the salesman when shopping for a new car, or with the hiring manager at a new job over your starting salary. It’s even possible to negotiate your tuition rates as a college student.

But a lot of the costs associated with buying a house can be difficult to negotiate down, according to mortgage advisor and author Casey Fleming.

“Appraisal, underwriter and processor are chosen by the lender, and the variation in fees is quite small,” he says. “Escrow and title services are typically chosen by the real estate agent of the seller in most areas, so the buyer has little say in what those fees will be.”

There’s also not much way around paying private mortgage insurance — you’ll need no less than a 20% down payment to avoid it.

But, you don’t need to let the non-negotiable items prevent you from bargaining for a better deal on other house-hunting costs. Here are a few fees and costs worth negotiating:

Real estate broker’s fees and commissions

From the outset, consider negotiating your real estate broker’s fees, according to Prof. David Reiss of the Brooklyn Law School, who teaches real estate finance and community development. “If 6% is standard in your community, you can look for brokers who will sell your home for 5% or less,” he says. “Be careful how low to go though, because you want your broker to be motivated enough to sell your property.”

Reiss notes that to gain the most advantage in negotiating their fees, your broker’s listing agreement should outline all the services they’ll provide you regarding advertisements, showing, and the plan in place to buy or sell the property in question.

Mortgage Broker v. Loan Officer

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MagnifyMoney.com quoted me in Mortgage Broker vs. Loan Officer: The Best Way to Shop for a Mortgage (must scroll down). It opens,

When you need to take out a loan to buy a home, you generally have two options. You can work with a lender’s loan officer or hire a mortgage broker. Loan officers and mortgage brokers are not the same thing, although the terms are often used interchangeably.

Loan officers work for a bank or a lender and will only be able to show you mortgage options from that financial institution. In contrast, mortgage brokers are individuals or firms that are licensed by a state to act as middlemen between you and multiple banks or mortgage lenders. Because brokers aren’t beholden to a particular lender, they can shop around and try to find you a loan with terms that best fit your circumstances.

Why should you consider working with a mortgage broker?

One of the biggest benefits to working with a mortgage broker is that they take over the job of shopping for a loan. You might be able to do this on your own, and in some cases, you could find a better loan than the broker, but it can be a time-consuming and complicated process.

A broker can help collect and organize the documents you need to apply for a mortgage, such as your proof of employment and income, tax returns, a list of your assets and debts, and credit reports and scores. The broker can then use the information to look for loans, compare rates and terms, and apply for mortgages on your behalf.

Casey Fleming, a mortgage adviser and author of “The Loan Guide: How to Get the Best Possible Mortgage,” says one of the big benefits is that brokers are generally “on your side,” while a loan officer represents the lender’s interest. Brokers are also incentivized to find you a loan that meets your needs and see the deal through closing because they don’t get paid until you close on the home.

Additionally, brokers might have access to lenders that don’t work directly with consumers, meaning you wouldn’t be able to get a loan from the lender even if you tried. And in some cases, brokers can leverage their relationship with a lender to get it to waive fees you’d otherwise have to pay.

Are there risks involved with using a mortgage broker?

While working with a broker could be a good idea, there are potential drawbacks to consider. “Not all brokers are created equal,” says Fleming. “Many have only a few sources for loans, and may not be able to find the best pricing.” There are also some mortgage lenders that don’t work with brokers and will only offer loans directly to consumers (through one of the lender’s loan officers).

Using a mortgage broker can also be expensive. Although you may find the services are worth paying for, consider the costs of using a broker:

Mortgage broker fees

Mortgage brokers are often paid in one of two ways. You may be able to choose how you’d like to pay the broker, or opt for both payment methods.

Some mortgage brokers will charge you a commission based on the loan you take out, often about 1% of the loan. For example, that’s a $3,000 fee on a $300,000 mortgage loan. You’ll pay this fee as part of your closing costs when you close on the home.

Other brokers may offer you a fee-free mortgage. However, what likely happens in this case is that the mortgage broker arranges a loan with a higher interest rate, leaving room for the lender to give the broker a cut. This route could cost you more over the lifetime of the loan but might be the better option if you want to minimize costs now.

Where to find a good mortgage broker

“Word of mouth is very useful when it comes to finding a good [mortgage broker],” according to Professor David Reiss, a real estate law professor at the Brooklyn Law School in Brooklyn, N.Y. You could ask friends or family members who’ve recently bought a home if they used a mortgage broker, as well as your real estate agent if he or she can recommend a broker.

However, don’t settle for the first recommendation you receive. The Federal Trade Commission recommends interviewing several brokers and trying to find one who’ll be a good fit for your home search.

Ask about their experience with buyers like you in the area, the fees they charge, and how many lenders they work with. “You want to know whether the mortgage broker can find competitive mortgage products, is well organized so that loans close in a timely manner, and whether it keeps away from bait-and-switch tactics that can be so difficult to deal with when buying a home,” says Reiss.

All About Mortgage Brokers

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Bankrate.com quoted me in Mortgage Broker — Everything You Need To Know. It opens,

When you need a mortgage to buy or refinance a home, there are 3 main ways to go about applying — through a traditional brick-and-mortar bank, an online lender or a mortgage broker (either in-person or online).

Many people first think about shopping for a mortgage where they already have their checking and savings accounts, which is often a major bank or a local credit union. And applying online with a traditional bank or online-only lender has become more common.

But while borrowers are probably the least familiar with using a mortgage broker, it comes with many benefits.

Here’s everything you need to know about using a mortgage broker. 

Working with a mortgage broker

A mortgage broker connects a borrower with a lender. While that makes them middlemen, there are several reasons why you should consider working with a broker instead of going straight to a lender.

For starters, brokers can shop dozens of lenders to get you the best pricing, says Casey Fleming, author of “The Loan Guide: How to Get the Best Possible Mortgage” and mortgage advisor with C2 Financial Corp. in San Jose, California.

Fleming says the price he charges for certain lenders or banks is very often better than the price a consumer could get by going directly to the same lender.

“When the lender outsources the loan origination and sales function to a broker, they offer to pay us what they would otherwise pay to cover their internal operations for the same function,” Fleming says.

“If we are willing to work for less than that—and that is usually the case—then the consumer’s price through a broker ends up being less than if they went directly to the lender,” he explains.

Further, “A broker is legally required to disclose his compensation in writing — a banker is not,”says Joe Parsons, senior loan officer with PFS Funding in Dublin, California, and author of the “Mortgage Insider blog.”

Variety is another benefit of brokers. It can help you find the right lender.

“Some may specialize in particular property types that others avoid. Some may have more flexibility with credit scores or down payment amounts than others,” says David Reiss, a law professor who specializes in real estate and consumer financial services at Brooklyn Law School in New York and the editor of REFinBlog.com.

In addition, brokers offer one-stop shopping, saving borrowers time and headaches.

“If you are turned down by a bank, you’re done — you have to walk away and begin again,” Fleming says. But “If you are turned down by one lender through a broker, the broker can take your file to another lender,” he adds. The borrower doesn’t need to do any extra work.

A broker’s expertise and relationships can also simplify the process of getting a loan.

Brokers have access to private lenders who can meet with you and assess whether or not you have the collateral, says Mike Arman, a retired longtime mortgage broker in Oak Hill, Florida.

Private lenders, which include nonbank mortgage companies and individuals, can make loans to borrowers in unconventional situations that banks can’t or won’t because of Dodd-Frank regulations or internal policy.

You may get a better price on a loan from a broker as well.

Under the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Loan Originator Compensation rule, brokers (but not bank lenders) must charge the same percentage on every deal, so they can’t raise their margin “just because” like a bank can, Fleming explains.

“The intent was to prevent originators from steering borrowers to high-cost loans in order to increase their commission,” Fleming notes.

You should also know that working with a broker won’t make your loan more expensive.

“The lender pays us, just like a cruise line pays a travel agent,” Fleming says.

Working with a traditional bank lender

Banks issue less than half of mortgages these days, according to the industry publication Inside Mortgage Finance. But working with a broker isn’t necessarily a slam dunk.

“A broker may claim that he offers more choices than a banker because he works with many lenders,” Parsons says. “In reality, most lenders offer pricing on their loans that is very similar.” Although, he notes, a broker may have available some niche lenders for unusual circumstances.

Reiss says that even if you’re working with a mortgage broker, it can be worthwhile to check out lenders on your own since no broker can work with every lender — there are simply too many. He suggests starting with lenders you already have a relationship with, but also looking at ads and reaching out directly to big banks, small banks and credit unions in your community.

It’s important to know your range of options, he notes.

For the same reason, you might want to shop around with a few different brokers.

Down in ARMs

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TheStreet.com quoted me in Top 5 Lowest 7-Year ARM Rates. It opens,

U.S. mortgage rates have continued to decline in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, low Treasury rates and stagnant economy, giving potential homeowners an opportunity to save money because of the dip.

The current market conditions give homeowners in the U.S. an opportunity to take advantage of the continuation of low mortgage rates since the Federal Reserve has not increased interest rates.

But, how do you snag the absolute lowest rates, especially if you don’t plan on staying in your first home for more than seven years and are learning toward 7/1 adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs)?

The 7-year ARMs are attractive to consumers, especially first-time homebuyers, because the interest rates are lower, helping you save more money each month compared to the traditional 30-year mortgage.

“You get what amounts to a fixed rate mortgage, but at a lower rate than the traditional 30-year fixed,” said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst of Bankrate, a North Palm Beach, Fla.-based financial content company.

While lower monthly payments are appealing, the interest rates reset after seven years, and it can be difficult to determine how much they will increase.

“If your timetable changes, then you may want to reconsider the loan you have,” he said. “You don’t want to be in the position of facing rising monthly payments that squeeze your budget or jeopardize your ability to afford your own home.”

Consumers on fixed incomes and saddled with student loans and credit card debt might opt for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage, because it represents “permanent payment affordability,” McBride said. The principal and interest will never change, because it is a fixed rate and can be easier to budget.

“It may not always be the optimal choice, but it is the safest choice,” he said.

Adjustable rate mortgages can still be beneficial if homeowners take advantage of the savings each month and allocate it towards paying down debt or into an emergency fund.

“Even if you’re still holding the 7-year ARM at the end of seven years, that doesn’t automatically turn it into a bad decision,” McBride said. “You will have banked seven years of savings relative to the fixed rate mortgage that can help you absorb any payment increases until you refinance or sell the home.”

Many consumers gravitate toward the 30-year mortgage, because the payments are stable and have been very low, said Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for Realtor.com, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based real estate company. Others are seeking the 7-year ARM, because they are more likely to qualify for a mortgage.

Mortgage activity so far in 2016 reveals that only 3% of mortgages have had shorter rate terms, according to Realtor.com’s analysis of purchase mortgage activity. Hybrid term mortgages such as the 7/1 ARM typically increase in share when “mortgage rates rise because the shorter fixed term offers a lower rate, often between 40 and 100 basis points,” he said. “The lower rate translates into a lower payment for the duration of the initial term, which is seven years.”

Each lender utilizes a benchmark such as a the 10-year U.S. Treasury or LIBOR rate and a margin, which is “what is added to the benchmark to determine your new rate,” Smoke said. The loans also have a cap on how high any single rate change can be and also a ceiling on how high the rate can ever be, he said.

At the end of the seven years, homeowners can choose to refinance to a lower fixed rate, but need to budget for the closing costs.

A lower rate upfront can be favorable for younger homeowners, but examining the ceiling rate and how it will impact your monthly payments is crucial.

“A mortgage broker or lender can help you walk through scenarios to determine if your timeline could benefit,” Smoke said. “To help calm any nerves about just how high your payment could go, ask yourself if you are willing to exchange the initial seven year savings for how long you might keep that mortgage after the seven-year period is up.”

Paying the premium for the peace of mind that your payments will remain static means that if interest rates rise several percentages in the next few years, you won’t be faced with having to consider the lower rate options or lower priced homes and/or more money down, he said.

“That’s why hybrids will likely become more popular in the future compared to how little they are used today,” Smoke said.

Since people have a tendency to change homes every seven years on average, a 7/1 ARM could be a good option because the savings can be substantial, said David Reiss, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School in N.Y.

“Even if you are not planning to move now, the future may bring changes such as divorce, frail relatives, job loss or new job opportunities,” he said. “Some people like the certainty of the 30-year fixed rate mortgages, but it is worth calculating just how much that certainty will cost you.”

Calculating Closing Costs

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Realtor.com quoted me in How Much Are Closing Costs? What Home Buyers and Sellers Can Expect. It reads, in part,

Closing costs are the fees paid to third parties that help facilitate the sale of a home, and they vary widely by location. But as a rule, you can estimate that they typically total 2% to 7% of the home’s purchase price. So on a $250,000 home, your closing costs would amount to anywhere from $5,000 to $17,500. Yep that’s one heck of a wide range. More on that below.

Both buyers and sellers typically pitch in on closing costs, but buyers shoulder the lion’s share of the load (3% to 4% of the home’s price) compared with sellers (1% to 3%). And while some closing costs must be paid before the home is officially sold (e.g., the home inspection fee when the service is rendered), most are paid at the end when you close on the home and the keys exchange hands.

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Why Closing Costs Vary

The reason for the huge disparity in closing costs boils down to the fact that different states and municipalities have different legal requirements—and fees—for the sale of a home.

“If you live in a jurisdiction with high title insurance premiums and property transfer taxes, they can really add up,” says David Reiss, research director at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School. “New York City, for instance, has something called a mansion tax, which adds a 1% tax to sales that exceed $1 million. And then there are the surprise expenses that can crop up like so-called ‘flip taxes’ that condos charge sellers.”

To estimate your closing costs, plug your numbers into an online closing costs calculator, or ask your Realtor, lender, or mortgage broker for a more accurate estimate. Then, at least three days before closing, the lender is required by federal law to send buyers a closing disclosure that outlines those costs once again. (Meanwhile sellers should receive similar documents from their Realtor outlining their own costs.)

Word to the wise: “Before you close, make sure to review these documents to see if the numbers line up to what you were originally quoted,” says Ameer. Errors can and do creep in, and since you’re already ponying up so much cash, it pays, literally, to eyeball those numbers one last time before the big day.

Seismic Shift in Lending?

Researchers at the American Enterprise Institute’s International Center on Housing Risk have posted a study that shows a “seismic shift in lending away from large banks to nonbanks.” (1) The key takeaways are

  • The dramatic decline in agency market share for large banks continued unabated in February, offset by an equally dramatic increase in the nonbank share.
  • Since November 2012, the large bank share has dropped from 61% to 33%, a move of 28 points, including a 1.2 point drop in February, a dramatic decline that has been met point-for-point by a 27 point increase in the nonbank share from 24% to 51%. Large nonbanks and other nonbanks have participated equally in the increase, accounting for 14 points and 13 points respectively.
  • Large banks have reduced the riskiness of their agency mortgage originations over the past few years. Nonbanks, in contrast, have shifted toward riskier loans as they have increased their market share.
  • Loans originated through the retail channel are less risky than loans originated through the broker and correspondent channels. This is true both for large banks and for nonbanks. But retail channel loans from nonbanks are substantially riskier than such loans from large banks.
  • The bottom line is that large banks attempting to regain market share would have to move well out the risk curve. (1)

While these findings are presented as negative developments, it is unclear to me that they are. Market share among big players in the mortgage market does vary dramatically over time. Given the new regulatory environment imposed by Dodd Frank, it is not surprising that the industry would readjust in some ways and that specialized nonbanks might increase market share once the financial crisis subsided. It is also unclear that moving out the risk curve is bad in today’s environment. Today’s lenders are quite conservative compared to the pre-crisis ones and there is good reason to think that lenders could safely loosen their underwriting somewhat. This is not to say, of course, that they should return to the bad old days. Just that there are more creditworthy borrowers out there.

Reiss on Refis Redux

Refinancing must be in the air because I was interviewed twice in the last week about them. The first story appeared here. The second story, This Could Be Your Last Shot to Refinance a Mortgage, is in the Fiscal Times. It reads, in part,

After the Fed’s announcement Wednesday that it would end its historic $3 trillion bond-buying program, mortgage rates predictably began to rise.

The good news is that they were rising from the lowest rates of the year, after tumbling through most of October. At just over 4 percent, today’s mortgages rates still remain extremely low by historical standards. In 2008, before the housing busts, rates were around 6.5 percent.

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Banks are stilled scarred from the housing bust and are dealing with significant changes to the regulatory environment, so lending standards are much tighter than they were in the past. Even former Fed chair Ben Bernanke recently admitted to having had his mortgage refinance application rejected.

To get the best rate, you’ll need excellent credit and lots of documentation of your income and assets. The average credit score for closed loans in September was 726, according to Ellie Mae.

Finally, shop around. “Talk to a big bank, talk to a little bank, talk to a mortgage broker,” says David Reiss, a professor of real estate finance at Brooklyn Law School. The gap between the best and the worst mortgage deals can be as much as a full percentage point.