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March Madness for Real Estate and Mortgages

It’s the time of year when the so-called experts tell you how to fill out your brackets for college basketball. The frenzy has been coined March Madness. Well, in the mortgage industry, we are seeing a frenzy of headlines, offers of so-called expert advice, and an unusually high level of buzz around real estate and mortgages. Here are some of the things I keep hearing…

  • § “The bank bailout settlement is going to allow all the shadow inventory to come to market at lower prices, which is going to drive home prices even lower.” Likely true. How much and how fast prices fall will be determined by the speed at which lenders proceed with the foreclosures.
  • § “The bank bailout settlement means people will get large principal reductions in their loans, if they are underwater.” Some will, most won’t. In its settlement, Bank of America will exclude loans owned by FannieMae/FreddieMac. This agreement will probably be mirrored by others, and therefore, won’t help a good portion of the population.
  • § “The government has finally helped the homeowner who is underwater yet still maintained a good payment history.” Semi-true. If you have an FHA loan closed prior to June 2009, you are able to do a streamline IF rates make sense in June (too soon to tell). If you closed after June 2009, no such luck. On the conventional front, HARP 2.0 may offer some help to those who have had their loan held by FannieMae/FreddieMac as long as there was no private mortgage insurance. Not exactly all inclusive – but applaudable.
  • § “You need to put 20% down to get a mortgage these days.” I hear this crazy notion from people far too often. Besides the FHA insuring loans with as little as 3.5% down (on loans up to $729,250 in high cost areas), people often forget that veterans can still finance 100% of the purchase price, and that Private Mortgage Insurance Companies are still insuring loans with 5-10% down.
  • § “Costs associated with loans are going up.” Most definitely. The hike in the guarantee fees has already caused a 3/8 – 1/2 increase in conventional loans and will raise FHA loans by 10 basis points in April. The FHA is also changing its premium structure to increase the cost of the mortgage—regardless of where rates themselves are headed.
  • § “Rates will stay low through 2014.” While every indication from Ben Bernacke & friends is consistent in their rhetoric that rates will stay low, we have already seen some significant swings in rates based on market conditions (unemployment numbers, problems in Greece, and so on). Rates will likely stay low, but getting the best rate will still require staying on top of everything.

Amongst the whirlwind of sound bites and headlines, there is some good news about real estate and mortgages. Never as rosy as it may sound, there is relief and opportunity for many  if you can sort through the hyperbole and consult with a true professional to make sure you have all the facts.

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