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Understanding Mortgages

First time home buyers moving in to their new home

Most renters want to own a home

Just about everyone who's been in the market for a home has addressed the age-old question of whether it's better to rent or buy. A family's circumstances often tell the tale of which is the better bet, but generally speaking, buying beats renting, especially from a dollars-and-cents perspective.

Even today, when a dearth of supply and a glut of demand has caused asking values to increase, most renters still want to own a home, so says a recently released poll. According to new findings from the National Association of Realtors, approximately 75 percent of "non-owners" say they have every intention of buying a house at some point in the future.

The homeownership rate has gone up and down over the years and is still below the all-time high of 69 percent in 2004, according to data compiled by Trading Economics. Currently, about 64 percent of Americans own a home, based on the most recent quarterly figures available from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Cost, limited supply leaving some renters in limbo

If around three-quarters of the country seeks to purchase a house and apply for a mortgage, why isn't the homeownership rate higher? It's largely because of the economics of it. On average, for the whole year, just over half of respondents in the NAR survey said they couldn't afford to buy a home, slightly lower than the 56 percent who indicated as much during the fourth quarter of 2017 alone.

Driving the price increases are the relatively few options would-be buyers have to choose from, noted NAR chief Lawrence Yun.

"A tug-of-war continues to take place in many markets throughout the country, where consistently solid job creation is fueling demand, but the lack of supply is creating affordability constraints that are ultimately pulling aspiring buyers further away from owning," Yun said.

How problematic of an issue dry real estate markets are is a function of where you happen to be looking, as some regions have more properties in listings than others. From a national perspective, however, choices are slim. In January, total housing inventory actually increased to 1.52 million, based on existing-home sales numbers from the NAR. But even with an increase of 4 percent from this past December, inventory is still down 9.5 percent from January of last year.

"These extremely frustrating conditions continue to be most apparent at the lower end of the market," Yun said, "which is why the overall share of first-time buyers remains well below where it should be given the strength of the job market and economy."

Renters feeling the pinch

But the rental situation isn't much more accommodating. To the contrary, 51 percent of the participants in the NAR survey said they anticipate paying more for rent in 2018 than they did in 2017.

As it stands, the average worker today has to earn more than $21 per hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Given that renters currently make an average of $16.38 per hour, this means that many renters are spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent. Because of these affordability pressures, it's time for developers to kick things into high gear.

Speaking of affordability, many renters or would-be buyers operate under the belief that they can't afford a down payment, under the assumption that they have to put down 20 percent of the property's value up front. Based on a separate poll conducted by the National Association of Realtors, 37 percent of millennials believe a 20 percent down payment is required. Not only is this inaccurate, but it's also far above what the average actually is (5 percent).

Regardless of what the supply situation looks like, renters are looking to buy, primarily because they're running out of room. In a poll, nearly 93 percent of respondents said they wanted at least two bathrooms in their future home.

With the inventory situation showing some improvement, prospective buyers should be able to get exactly what they're looking for in the not-too-distant future.

Understanding Mortgages

self-employed woman applying for a mortgage online

How to best approach the mortgage process when self-employed

The benefits of self-employment are undeniable. If they weren't, then there wouldn't be approximately 41 million Americans who work for themselves, according to estimates from MBO Partners.

Being your own boss is extremely freeing, as you're able to set your own timetable, pursue your passion or simply do something you're particularly good at. But as with any job, there are some challenges to being self-employed. One of them can be applying for a mortgage. It's not that the process itself is any more difficult than it is for those who work for a business, but there is a certain level of due diligence that self-employed applicants must reach in order to check all the boxes.

Here are a few smart ways to approach the process and simplify it:

1. Prep your paperwork

Paperwork is the name of the game in mortgage approval. An accountant can provide tips for obtaining the proper documentation, such as tax forms, profit and losses, etc.

2. Contact a mortgage professional

Rely on the expertise of a real estate or mortgage professional rather than going about it on your own. They understand exactly what it takes to be approved for a home loan and can offer sound advice.

3. Maintain a clean credit profile

A high credit score speaks well to your fiscal responsibility, which will go a long way toward improving the likelihood of authorization.

Understanding Mortgages


Couple holding a house

Interest rate are climbing, but how high will they go?

The answer is a bit foggy, as is their effect on conventional mortgage rates. However, should they head higher, newly released information suggests that many would-be buyers say they wouldn't let this get in the way of entering the market.

On March 21, the Federal Reserve - as expected - raised the benchmark funds rate to 1.75 percent, following several quarter-percent increases in 2017 and a few more in previous years. This most recent hike puts short-term interest rates at their highest level in a decade.

When key interest rates rise or fall, they cause a ripple effect that impacts savings, credit card fees and mortgage rates. Indeed, tracing back to when the Fed first started raising interest rates in earnest, mortgage rates have followed suit, although at a more moderate pace. For instance, according to data from Freddie Mac, 30-year fixed-rate mortgages used to average below 4 percent. Now they average around 4.5 percent.

Additional rate hikes may be in store

Economists seem to agree that the central bank isn't done. According to The Washington Post, some predict as many as two or three more rate hikes before 2018 concludes. But even if this comes to pass and mortgage interest levels run higher in response, most Americans wouldn't let it deter them from buying a house.

That's according to a poll conducted by SurveyMonkey, which found that, of the 4,000 individuals who participated, just 6 percent said they'd change their mind about buying a house if mortgage rates surpassed 5 percent.

Recent evidence seems to suggest as much. Home sales continue to spring up like roses. In February, purchases for all housing types rose 3 percent compared to January, according to the National Association of Realtors. This translated to a seasonally adjusted total of 5.5 million properties bought across the U.S. in February.

This gives credence to the general consensus among real estate agents who say their clients aren't altogether bothered by rates on the rise. In fact, financial advisor Peter Boockvar believes it's having the opposite effect.

"Higher rates are actually spurring buyers to step up and lock in with a purchase and a funding rate before they head even higher," Boockvar told CNBC. He added that weekly mortgage application data, maintained by the Mortgage Bankers Association, is further evidence of this. In early March, purchase loans were - and likely continue to be - the most popular mortgage type.

5 percent is the norm for interest rates

Historical context may also be playing a role in how prospective buyers are seemingly unperturbed by rates elevating. After all, the historical norm for short-term interest rates is 5 percent, and 30-year FRMs once averaged in the double-digits during the 1970s.

Real estate experts are none too bothered either, but admittedly they would rather see inventory levels do the climbing.

"To fully satisfy demand, most markets right now need a substantial increase in new listings," National Association of Realtors chief economist Lawrence Yun told CNBC.

With the economy on firmer footing and consumer sentiment at 17-year highs, that just might happen. But much like the direction of interest rates, only time will tell.

Understanding Mortgages

Down payment on a house might be a lot less than you think it is

Have you ever heard the expression that "what you don't know can't hurt you?" While this may be true some of the time, it isn't exactly accurate when it comes to buying a house or applying for a mortgage. That's because many people, it turns out, have preconceived notions about how much they need to spend on a down payment, believing it costs more than it actually does.

Nearly 45 percent of baby boomers think that a 20 percent down payment is required in order to be eligible to buy, according to a 2016 poll conducted by the National Association of Realtors. Many first-time buyers are also of this mindset: 37 percent of respondents 35 years of age or under thought the same thing.

What is the average down payment on a house?
This 20 percent down payment myth has been circulating for a while, but it's time to put an end to it. For several years, the average median down payment for U.S. homebuyers has hovered around 5 percent of the purchase price, according to NAR research.

This may also provide greater clarity as to why prospective buyers at the state level can't help but have some misgivings about entering the market. A 2017 survey conducted by the Michigan State Housing Development Authority found that the cost of a down payment was the chief concern for 55 percent of individuals living in the state and aspiring to buy a house for the first time.

Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the NAR, said this is a thinking process of millennials as a whole and could explain why homeownership among people age 35 and under is less robust than it's been.

"It's possible some of the hesitation about buying right now among young adults is from them not realizing there are mortgage financing options available that do not require a 20 percent down payment, which would be north of $100,000 in some expensive areas in the country," Yun explained.

Many millennials admit they haven't saved enough
However, there are those situations where millennials really aren't saving enough for the down payment portion of a real estate transaction. According to survey data from Apartment List, two-thirds of 18- to 34-year-olds have down payment savings of less than $1,000. Perhaps if more people spread the word about down payments, they will encourage more people to save in order to achieve a dream that is much more attainable than they once thought.

Although 5 percent is the typical down payment for first-time borrowers, conventional mortgages allow for 3 percent. And if you're currently serving in the military, are an eligible veteran or surviving spouse of a service member, the down payment could be waived altogether, as no down payment options are available to qualifying borrowers through the Department of Veterans Affairs. There are also zero down payment options available to qualifying borrowers and homes through the USDA Rural Development program.

Although not being required to pay 20 percent of a home's worth surely comes as good news for would-be buyers, in many cases it may still be a good strategy to put more toward the down payment in order to reduce your monthly mortgage expenses. These are the kinds of decisions that are good to examine with a loan officer.

For more help on the financing program that makes the most sense for you, talk to an RMS loan officer today.

Understanding Mortgages

What's causing the rise in mortgage ratesIf you're considering applying for a mortgage and have taken a peek at interest rates, you've probably noticed something that's hard to miss: Rates are rising.

If you go back to as recently as 2016, a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged in the 3.5 percent range through most of the year, according to archived data maintained by Freddie Mac. And in years prior, 30-year FRMs occasionally reached even lower levels.

Today, the tide has turned a bit. As of mid-February, 30-year FRMs have increased every week in 2018, now averaging 4.22 percent, based on the most recent Primary Mortgage Market Survey from Freddie Mac.

The reversal raises a simple question: Why? The answer, admittedly, isn't quite as clear cut.

Economic stimulation

Like the residential marketplace itself, the forces behind mortgage shifts are numerous and variegated, and the relative influence of each variable can change. One of the chief effects is the economy. In bad times, when gross domestic product is low or unemployment is high, mortgage interest rates tend to be more affordable in an effort to stimulate borrowing and investment on the part of businesses and individuals who have the means to buy. This is part of the reason why in the aftermath of the recession, fixed-term mortgage loans for the most part stayed in the 4 percent range, reaching 5 percent only on a handful of occasions in 2010.

When the economy strengthens, like it did in 2017 and continues to do thus far in 2018, mortgage rates frequently rise, in part to prevent the economy from burning too hot.

Actions by Federal Reserve

The Federal Reserve is the central banking authority in the U.S., charged with implementing monetary policy for the country. One of its main functions is determining short-term interest rates. The Fed doesn't unilaterally establish where interest rates will be, but participates in actions, like lending, that move them along.

Generally speaking, when the Fed raises the benchmark on interest rates, mortgage rates follow suit. While this isn't always the case, the actions by the central bank do have an influence. In February, the federal interest rate stood between 1.25 percent and 1.50 percent. Economists polled by the Wall Street Journal predict the Fed will adjust rates higher three or four times in 2018, noting the number could change.

Developments on the world stage

There's no denying that the U.S. has the largest economy in the world. California alone has a GDP that's on par with some of the world's leading countries.

But what’s going on in the U.S. doesn't occur in a vacuum. Because of the American free market economic system, what happens at the global level has an impact at home. Influences may include, but aren't limited to, political developments, employment availability, the cost of living and even fuel prices. Furthermore, much like the U.S. when the economy performs well, mortgage rates also rise when the global economy is robust. As noted by the Wall Street Journal, numerous countries had a stellar 2017, evidenced by new records among several major stock indexes, like Japan's Nikkei and Germany's DAX.

Everyone wants an affordable mortgage with the lowest rates possible. And even though their interest rates are higher, would-be buyers recognize they're still low. In fact, just 6 percent of buyers said they'd put off applying for a mortgage if rates surpassed 5 percent, according to a poll commissioned by Redfin. And even though rates are higher, borrowers are keeping up with their payments, as serious delinquencies (overdue by 90 days or more) fell in 48 of 50 states in November, based on the most recent statistics available from CoreLogic.

The mortgage approval process is a highly personal one and can be complicated if you're new to it. At Residential Mortgage Services, we guide our clients from beginning to end so they know exactly what to expect. High-quality, friendly service at RMS isn't just our specialty - it's our priority.

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