This regularly-scheduled sponsored Q&A column is written by Eli Tucker, Arlington-based Realtor and Rosslyn resident. Please submit your questions to him via email for response in future columns. Enjoy!
Question: Does it matter which lender/mortgage company I choose when I purchase a home?
Answer: Choosing a good lender is one of the most important decisions you make during the home buying process. One of the initial differentiators is whether your lender runs credit and collects your documents up-front (W-2s, income verification, bank statements, etc) or just asks questions about your income and debt. This early effort drives most of the following reasons a good lender is able to make such a big difference:
Better Pre-Approval: When I review offers on a listing, I put a lot of value in the quality of the lender who wrote the pre-approval letter for the buyer. I also call the lender to 1) make sure they’re responsive 2) ask them what information/documents they reviewed and 3) about the financial strength of the buyer. Approval letters from unreliable lenders or lenders who haven’t reviewed a full set of documents pose a moderate risk of not closing, which weakens the offer.
Close Faster: Online lenders and larger banks have difficulty closing in less than 35-45 days, but a good lender can close in less than three weeks. If you find yourself competing for a property, working with a lender who can close faster than the offers you’re competing against will significantly increase the probability of your offer being chosen. I’ve represented buyers and sellers where the chosen offer isn’t the highest sale price, but the strongest overall offer, often attributed to the quality of the lender and their ability to close faster.
Don’t Miss Settlement
Good lenders do not miss the settlement date. Their reputation and business rely on it. If you miss the contracted settlement date, you’re (usually) in default and expose yourself to risks including loss of Earnest Money Deposit or having the contract voided by the seller.
A good question to ask your lender is where their staff works. There are quite a few people involved in getting your loan approved including the loan officer, processor, and underwriters. Lenders with a history of missing settlement deadlines often have staff working in different locations, that don’t regularly work together. If your lender works in the same physical office as all of those people, that’s a good indication that they can handle issues efficiently and have a high probability of meeting the settlement date.
Don’t Get Duped (Rate vs APR)
Be careful when you’re comparing interest rates, especially online rates. First, make sure you’re comparing the Annual Percentage Rate (APR), not the interest rate. Many lenders advertise lower rates by including points (you pay cash up-front for a lower rate) or they charge higher fees. The APR is a measure of the total cost of the loan, including points, fees, and interest rate and allows for an apples-to-apples comparison. Second, it’s important to note that conforming loans (loan amounts of $636,150 or less), which are backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, typically have very little variation in rates because they usually follow similar Fannie and Freddie guidelines and market pricing. The biggest differences in rates are on non-conforming loan amounts (over $636,150) and in special programs like Doctor or Attorney loans.
A reliable pre-approval gives you the confidence that you’ll qualify for the loan you’re applying for. Weak pre-approval letters lead to surprises during the loan application process, which can lead to rejection letters or delays. The last thing you want is to find out you don’t qualify after you’ve spent money on a home inspection, appraisal, and started packing for a move that may not happen. Reviewing all of your documents early also gives you and your lender time to fix credit scores, debt ratios, and other issues to increase your purchasing power or improve your interest rates.
In most cases, buyers should be considering multiple loan products and finding the best fit. This is particularly true if you’re buying and selling a property and would like to purchase without a home sale contingency, if you’re exploring low down payment options, or if you’re planning to own the property for less than 10 years and can benefit from the lower rates of an Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM). A good lender will have access to a wide range of great products, including Doctor and Attorney programs, and be able to advise you on the type of loan that nets you the best long-term results.
If you’re considering buying or in the process of talking to lenders, I’d be happy to make some recommendations based on your financial situation, type of purchase, and goals. Feel free to reach out to me at [email protected]
Eli Tucker is a licensed Realtor in Virginia, Washington DC, and Maryland with Real Living At Home, 2420 Wilson Blvd #101 Arlington, VA 22201, (202) 518-8781.