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posted: 1/18/2013 5:15 AM

Getting lender's best price on home loan often futile

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Editor's note: This is the second article in a series.

This series of articles is about opportunities available to homeowners to save money on a mortgage in 2013. The first article was directed to those with an existing mortgage carrying an interest rate above the current market rate who could refinance profitably but haven't -- for reasons that don't make sense. This article is directed at those looking to find the best possible deal on a refinance or home purchase loan.

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Importance of posted prices: Mortgage lenders every morning reset their "posted prices," which are the prices they will commit to at that time to a borrower who meets their qualification requirements. On a given transaction, posted prices will vary from lender to lender, and in a well-functioning market the shopping borrower would find the lender posting the best price on her deal and grab it. But that turns out to be quite difficult to do.

Agents don't necessarily quote posted prices: The problem is that posted prices are not public information. Lenders deliver them to their loan officers, brokers and others authorized to offer their loans to the public. But these agents are not obliged to quote posted prices to mortgage shoppers, and in many cases they do not.

Agents looking to snare the shopper as a customer may price below the posted price (called "lowballing"). It is a common practice because it is often the only method available to the agent to separate herself from the others. After the customer is committed, the agent may price above the posted price ("highballing") to increase the profit margin.

If the market price subsequently declines, the shopper will receive the early price quote instead of the new and lower posted price. If the market price increases, the shopper will pay the new posted price or higher, probably with an explanation and perhaps even an apology.

Why lowballing works: Agents can't be held to the prices they quote to shoppers because market prices will change before the price is locked. The information provided by a borrower upon which a price quote depends must be confirmed by the lender before the price is locked.

Validation of some features, such as credit score, is quick, but others, like property value, usually take days to complete, and sometimes weeks. While the applicant is waiting for the lender to validate her information, the posted price is likely to change with changes in the market, making the early price quote obsolete.

Why highballing works: The typical applicant has no way to know whether she is getting the lender's posted price at the time the price is locked. By that time, furthermore, the applicant may be committed to the transaction, having invested in an appraisal that is not transferable to another lender, and possibly paid other fees as well. Indeed, if the transaction is a home purchase with a firm closing date, there may not be time to start the process again.

The key to effective shopping is access to posted prices: To avoid lowballing, mortgage shoppers must have access to the posted prices of the lenders being shopped. This assures that their selection of the lender with the lowest price is correct. To avoid highballing, they must have access to the posted prices of the lender they have selected when that lender locks the price. This assures that they are receiving the correct price.

The only way that shoppers can compare posted prices of competing lenders and check that the locked price is the posted price is to access a multilender website that obtains the posted prices of participating lenders for disclosure to shoppers in real time. There are three: mortgagemarvel.com; zillow.com; and mtgprofessor.com, which is mine.

Don't confuse multilender sites with lead generation sites, such as LendingTree.com and LowerMyBills.com, which do business with hundreds of lenders. These sites do not collect price data from lenders. Rather, they collect financial information including Social Security numbers from shoppers, which is sold to the three or four lenders who will pay the most for it. The shopper remains completely vulnerable to lowballing and highballing by those lenders.

Next week in HomesSaturday: Saving interest on the mortgage you have now.

• Contact Jack Guttentag via his website at mtgprofessor.com.

2012, Inman News Service

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