Freddie Mac mortgage rates (January - July 2010)

No doubt you’ve heard that mortgage rates are low. They’re lower than they’ve ever been in history.  The news is everywhere.

Just check out some of these headlines from the last 24 hours:

  • Mortgage rates set new lows for the 6th straight week (Reuters)
  • Mortgage rates fall again; 30-year fixed at 4.54% (Wall Street Journal)
  • Mortgage rates hit another low : 4.54% (NPR)

Fixed mortgage rates are now down more than 1/2 percent from the start of the year, and 3/4 percent from just 1 year ago. The drop has dramatically improved home affordability for home buyers in San Jose while creating refinance opportunities for existing homeowners.

From a payment perspective, a conforming, 30-year fixed rate mortgage is now cheaper by $41.94 per month per $100,000 borrowed versus July 2009.

A homeowner with a $300,000 mortgage, therefore, is saving $45,295.20 over 30 years.

Low mortgage rates rarely last long and rates appear to have troughed. After a big downhill between April and July, they’re now flat. This could mean rates have finished falling, or that they’re gearing up for another drop lower. Either way, if you haven’t talked to your real estate agent about home affordability, or your loan officer about refinancing, it may be time to make that call.

If today’s market marks the end of low rates, rates are expected to rise quickly.

Loan-level pricing adjustments add to mortgage costsConforming mortgage rates may be posting all-time lows this week, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be eligible for them. You may have already called your loan officer and found this out the hard way.

It’s because of a federally-mandated mortgage-pricing scheme known as “loan-level pricing adjustments”.

In effect since April 2009, loan-level pricing adjustments are changes to a loan’s base rate and/or fee structure based on that loan’s inherent risk to Wall Street. It’s similar to auto insurance pricing adjustment in that a sports car, all things equal, will cost more to insure than a comparably-priced minivan.

More risk, more cost.

In mortgage lending, loan risk can be loosely grouped into 5 categories. Mortgage applications in San Jose featuring any of the five traits are subject to price adjustments:

  1. Credit Score (i.e. the borrower’s FICO is below 740)
  2. Property Type (i.e. the subject property is a multi-unit home)
  3. Occupancy (i.e. the subject property is an investment home)
  4. Structure (i.e. there is a subordinate/junior lien on title)
  5. Equity (i.e. mortgage insurance is required by the lender)

Furthermore, loan-level pricing adjustments are cumulative.

A 3-unit investment home will face larger adjustments than an owner-occupied 3-unit home, for example. It’s these adjustments that explain why you may not be eligible for the rates you see advertised online and in the newspapers — your particular loan may be subject to this risk-based pricing that raises your mortgage rate and closing costs.

The government’s loan-level pricing adjustment schedule is public information. See what your lender and how your loan quote is made at the Fannie Mae website. Or, if you find the charts confusing, just call or email your loan officer for help with interpretation.

Inflation and mortgage ratesAll day, every day, conforming and FHA mortgage rates in California are in flux.  Rates move in response to hundreds of factors which exact varying levels of influence.

Among the biggest influences on mortgage rates is inflation.  When inflation is unexpectedly high, mortgage rates tend to rise quickly. Conversely, when inflation is unexpectedly low, rates tend to fall quickly.

But what is inflation?

By definition, inflation is when a currency loses its value; when what used to cost $1.00 now costs $1.10.

As consumers, we recognize inflation by the items we buy on a daily basis becoming more expensive.  However, it’s not that goods are more expensive — it’s that the dollars we’re using to buy them have become worth less.

With respect to mortgage rates, this is a big deal because mortgage rates are directly related to the price of a special type of bond called a mortgage-backed bond.

On Wall Street, mortgage-backed bonds are priced, bought, and sold in U.S. dollars so as inflation renders those dollars less valuable, so it does to mortgage-backed bonds as well. It’s a chain reaction by which mortgage bonds lose value, leading investors sell them, causing bond prices to fall on the excess supply.

And, because mortgage rates move opposite of bond prices, as inflation takes hold, mortgage rates rise.

Lately, inflation has been exceptionally low. The Federal Reserve acknowledged as much in its last statement to the markets, and available data backs that position.  This, after predictions that inflation would be “runaway” in 2010.

The Cost of Living is up just modestly this year and it’s helping mortgage rates stay low. And, so long as it lasts, the cost of owning a home in Cambrian will remain relatively inexpensive.

Mortgage discount points are risingMortgage rates may be dropping, but mortgage costs are not.

According to Freddie Mac, the average required discount points on a conforming mortgage rate are higher by 0.1 percent since early-May.

A “discount point” is prepaid mortgage interest; an up-front fee paid by a borrower in exchange for a lower mortgage rate. In most cases, discount points are tax-deductible.

Tax-deductible or not, though, rising costs are rising costs and Freddie Mac glosses over it.  In its weekly press release, the government group offers mortgage rate comparisons to weeks prior, but doesn’t do the same for required points.

The press fails to mention discount points entirely.

An increase of 1/10 percent in discount points costs homebuyers and refinancing households in San Jose an extra $100 per $100,000 borrowed.

The hike reminds us that there’s more to a mortgage than just its rate — costs matter, too.  And if you’ve only been watching the headlines, you would have missed how costs are rising.

Because of strife in Greece, Spain and North Korea, conforming mortgage rates are back to all-time lows. They’re at levels not seen in 50 years.  For homeowners that missed the Refi Boom of November 2009, it’s a second chance.

In this well-presented, 3-minute video from NBC’s The Today Show, you’ll get tips getting low rates and choosing the best time to lock in.

Some of the topics covered include:

  • Why were the experts wrong about rates moving higher this summer?
  • How much money can you save with a 1 point drop in your interest rate?
  • Should you buy a bigger home now that rates have fallen?

The advice in the piece is matter-of-fact and centered.  There is no cheerleading and the message is honest. Mortgage rates are low and they likely won’t stay that way.  If you’ve been thinking about a refinance, talk to your loan officer as soon as possible.

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Good luck charms and mortgage ratesShopping multiple lenders for a “good mortgage rate” can sometimes save you 1/8 percent on your rate and/or a few hundred dollars in fees. However, when it comes to getting the best mortgage rate, you’re going to more than good research skills.

You’re going to need some luck.

Mortgage rates for people in California or anywhere else, for that matter, are unpredictable, ever-changing, and rarely change as expected.

For example, when the Federal Reserve left the mortgage market March 31, 2010, analysts said that mortgage rates would rise by a half-percent or more. It was practically stated as fact on TV.  When April 1 came around, though, rates didn’t rise.

Instead, a volcano erupted and mortgage rates dropped on safe haven buying.

Then, a week later, as  the volcano ash cleared, mortgage rates were supposed to resume their rise. Only they didn’t. Instead, a debt crisis emerged in the Eurozone and mortgage rates dropped.

Since March 31, conforming mortgage rates are lower by roughly 0.125 percent, according to Freddie Mac’s weekly mortgage rate survey.  At today’s rates, the savings are roughly $20 per month per $200,000 borrowed — or $100 per month based on their original, post-March 31 forecast.

It brings us to one of the most important axioms in rate shopping: You can’t shop for good luck.

  • On some days, rates go higher
  • On some days, rates go lower
  • On some days, rates stay the same

Occasionally, there are days when rates do all three.

As a home buyer or would-be refinancer, what rate you get depends on at what time of day you do your shopping.

You can’t predict what will happen next in mortgage markets — even just an hour from now. Therefore, the smartest move, sometimes, is just lock your rate now.  At least that way, you’ve got a guarantee.

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Mortgage rates react to natural disastersMortgage rates and home affordability have improved lately, thanks to an unlikely ally — Mother Nature.

In the 7 days since Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull erupted, ash clouds have grounded planes, disrupted businesses, and stranded exports in warehouses worldwide.

It’s a drag on commerce that’s spilled over onto Wall Street. As experts debate the potential for future seismic activity, traders are taking some of their investment risk off the table. 

In trading circles, it’s called “safe haven buying”. When the market gets cloudy, investors often move their cash into relatively safe assets.  This includes government-backed securities — mortgage-bonds among them.

Demand for bonds rise, pushing up prices and driving down rates.

Conforming and FHA mortgage rates in California touched a 3-week low earlier this week.

Volcanic eruptions and like natural disasters remind us: mortgage rates change for all sorts of reasons. Some we can predict, most we cannot. There’s literally thousands of influences on the U.S. mortgage market.

If you’ve been shopping for a home or floating a mortgage rate, luck’s been on your side. Mortgage rates have fallen post-Eyjafjallajökull. However, as ash clouds dissipate and business resumes worldwide, investors will regain their collective appetite for risk and safe haven buying will reach its natural end.

When that happens, mortgage rates will rise.

Therefore, use the seismic uncertainty to your advantage.  Consider locking your mortgage rate sooner rather than later — while rates are still low.

Comparing the 30-year fixed to the 5-year ARM Apr 2009-Apr 2010

Each week, government-led Freddie Mac publishes a weekly mortgage rate survey based on data from 125 banks across the country.  According to this week’s results, the relative rate of a 5-year ARM in California is extremely low versus its 30-year fixed-rate cousin.

Consider this comparison:

  • In April 2009, the two products ran neck-and-neck with respect to rates
  • In April 2010, the two products are split by 0.99 percent

On a $200,000 home loan, that’s a difference of $117 per month to a mortgage payment.

Adjustable-rate mortgages aren’t suitable for everyone, but they can be a terrific fit given your individual circumstance.  For example, any one of the following scenarios could warrant a 5-year ARM:

  1. Buying a home with an intent to sell within 5 years
  2. Currently financed with a 30-year fixed mortgage with plans to sell within 5 years
  3. Interested in low payments and comfortable with longer-term interest rate and payment uncertainty

Additionally, homeowners with existing ARMs may want to refinance into a brand-new ARM, if only to extend the initial change date on the current note.

Before opting an ARM or a fixed, speak with your loan officer about how adjustable-rate mortgages work, and what longer-term risks may exist.  The savings may be tempting, but there’s more to consider than just the payment.

Inflation is bad for mortgage ratesHomes are more affordable in Willow Glen and across the nation as the housing market emerges from a slow winter season with mortgage rates still near 5 percent.

Soft housing and low rates are an excellent combination for home buyers but whereas home values rise with a gradual pace, mortgage rates change in an instant.  It’s something worth watching.

Each 0.25% increase to conventional or FHA rates adds approximately $16 per month for each $100,000 borrowed. Mortgage rate volatility can change your household budget.

If you’re trying to gauge whether rates will be rising or falling, one keyword for which to listen is “inflation”. Mortgage rates are highly responsive to inflation.

By definition, inflation is when a currency loses its value; when what used to cost $2.00 now costs $2.15. As consumers, we perceive inflation as goods becoming more expensive.  However, it’s not that goods are more expensive, per se. It’s that the dollars used to buy them are worth less.

This is a big deal to mortgage rates because mortgage bonds are denominated, bought, and sold in U.S. dollars.  As the dollar loses value to inflation, therefore, so does the value of every mortgage bond in existence. When bonds lose their value, investors don’t want them and bond prices fall.  Mortgage rates move opposite of bond prices. 

Prices down, rates up.

In today’s market, the relationship between inflation and mortgage rates is helping home buyers. The Cost of Living made its smallest annual gain in 6 years last month and the Fed has repeatedly said that inflation will stay low for some time. The combination is driving investors to buy mortgage bonds which, in turn, is suppresses rates.

So long as it lasts, the cost of homeownership will remain relatively low. Combined with the expiring tax credit, the timing to buy a San Jose home may be as good as it gets.

Mortgage rates are expired before they hit the papers

You can’t get your mortgage rates from the newspaper. Last week proved it.  Again.

Friday morning, headlines in California and around the country read that mortgage rates were down 0.04 percent, on average, since the week prior.

A sampling of said headlines includes:

  • US Mortgage Rates Drop For 2nd Straight Week (Reuters)
  • Mortgage Rates On 30-year US Loans Fall To 4.93% (Business Week)
  • 30-Year Fixed Mortgage Rate Falls Farther Below 5% (Marketwatch)

The story behind the headline was sourced from the Freddie Mac Primary Mortgage Market Survey, am industry-wide mortgage rate poll of more than 100 lenders.  The PMMS has reported mortgage rate data to markets since 1971 and is the largest of its kind.

Unfortunately, San Jose rate shoppers can’t rely on it.

See, unlike governments and private-sector firms, when consumers are in need mortgage rate information, they need the information delivered in real-time; for making decisions on-the-spot.  Consumers need to know what rates are doing right now.

The Freddie Mac survey can’t offer that.

According to Freddie Mac, the survey’s methodology is to collect mortgage rates from lenders between Monday and Wednesday and to publish that data Thursday morning.  The survey results are an average of all reported mortgage rates. The problem is that mortgage rates change all day, every day.  The PMMS results are skewed, therefore, by methodology.

And, meanwhile, the issue was compounded last week because mortgage rates shot higher Wednesday afternoon — after the survey had “closed”.  The market deterioration ran into Thursday, too — again, unable to be captured by Freddie Mac’s PMMS.

Although the newspapers reported mortgage rates down last week, they weren’t.  Conforming mortgage rates were higher by at least 1/8 percent, or roughly $11 per $100,000 borrowed per month.  In some cases, rates were up by even more.

Newspapers and websites can give a lot of good information, but pricing is far too fluid to rely on a reporter. When you need to know what mortgage rates are doing in real-time, make sure you’re talking to a loan officer.  Otherwise, you may just be getting yesterday’s news.