Getting a mortgage, paying your mortgage, refinancing your mortgage: These are all major undertakings, but during a pandemic, all of it becomes more complicated. Sometimes a lot more complicated.
But make no mistake, home buyers are still taking out and paying down mortgages during the current global health crisis. There have, in fact, been some silver linings amid the economic uncertainty—hello, record-low interest rates—but also plenty of changes to keep up with. Mortgage lending looks much different now than at the start of the year.Whether you’re applying for a new mortgage, struggling to pay your current mortgage, or curious about refinancing, here’s what mortgage lenders from around the country want you to know.
1. Rates have dropped, but getting a mortgage has gotten more complicated
First, the good news : Rates have been very low in recent weeks, and have come back down to their absolute lowest levels in a long time.
That means this could be a great time to take out a mortgage and lock in a low rate. But getting a mortgage is more difficult during a pandemic.
“Across the industry, underwriting a mortgage has become a process. Many of the third-party partners that lenders rely on—county offices, appraisal firms, and title companies—have closed or taken steps to mitigate their exposure to COVID-19.
Even if you can file your mortgage application online, there are a lot of steps in the process traditionally that happen in person, like getting notarization, conducting a home appraisal, and signing closing documents.
As social distancing makes these steps more difficult, you might have to settle for a “drive-by appraisal” instead of a thorough, more traditional appraisal inside the home.
And curbside closings with masks and gloves started to pop up all over the country.
2. Be ready to prove (many times) that you can pay a mortgage
If you’ve lost your job or been furloughed, you might not be able to buy your dream house (or any house) right now.
Whether you are buying a home or refinancing your current mortgage, you must be employed and have proof of employment. If someone has a loan in process and becomes unemployed, their mortgage closing would have to wait until they have returned to work and received their first paycheck and or show two months of bank statements if self employed.
Lenders are also taking extra steps to verify each borrower’s employment status, which means more red tape before you can get a loan.
Normally, lenders run two or three employment verifications before approving a new loan or refinancing. Today’s borrowers need to be patient and readily available with additional documents during this difficult and uncharted time in history.
3. Your credit score might not make the cut anymore
Economic uncertainty means lenders are just as nervous as borrowers, and some lenders are raising their requirements for borrowers’ credit scores.
“Many lenders who were previously able to approve FHA loans with credit scores as low as 580 are now requiring at least a 620 score to qualify. Always check with your lender.
Even if you aren’t in the market for a new home today, now is a good time to work on improving your credit score if you plan to buy in the future.
Hopefully, these changes are only temporary.
4. Forbearance isn't forgiveness—you'll eventually need to pay up
The CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act requires loan servicers to provide forbearance (aka deferment) to homeowners with federally backed mortgages. That means if you’ve lost your job and are struggling to make your mortgage payments, you could go months without owing a payment. But forbearance isn’t a given, and it isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.
“The CARES Act is not designed to create a freedom from the obligation, and the forbearance is not forgiveness. Missed payments will have to be made up, whether in lump sum or rolled out over a period of time. Check with your lender to make sure of their policy.
You’ll still be on the hook for the payments you missed after your forbearance period ends, so if you can afford to keep paying your mortgage now, you should.
To determine if you’re eligible for forbearance, call your loan servicer—don’t just stop making payments.
5. Don't be too fast to refinance
Current homeowners might be eager to refinance and score a lower interest rate. It’s not a bad idea, but it’s not the best move for everyone.
You should consider how long you expect to reside in your home. You should also account for closing costs such as appraisal and title insurance policy fees, which vary by lender and market.
If you plan to stay in your house for only the next two years, for example, refinancing might not be worth it—hefty closing costs could offset the savings you would gain from a lower interest rate.
“It’s also important to remember that refinancing is essentially underwriting a brand-new mortgage, so lenders will conduct income verification and may require the similar documentation as the first time around.
6. Now could be a good time to take out a home equity loan
Right now, homeowners can also score low rates on a home equity line of credit, or HELOC, to finance major home improvements like a new roof or addition.
“This may be a great time to take out a home equity line to consolidate debt. “This process will help reduce the total obligations on a monthly basis and allow for the balance to be refinanced into a much lower rate.”
Just be careful not to overimprove your home at a time when the economy and the housing market are both in flux.
If you want more information contact your local O'Brien Realty agent today.