What 5 questions should you ask your lender?
Everyone knows you’re supposed to be proactive and assertive when you take out a mortgage, carefully collecting and evaluating all sorts of information before you make the biggest deal of your life. But when the mortgage broker starts shooting sheaves of papers (OK, PDF documents) at you, it’s easy for your eyes to glaze over at the sight of so many zeroes, and tempting just to start signing whatever it takes to get that house!
Here are 5 questions every smart buyer (or refi-er) should add to the list of issues to cover with your mortgage professional:
- Are you a bank, a broker, or both? Generally speaking, mortgage lenders that are banks or have their own banking divisions (which many reputable brokerages do) have more control over the appraisal process, including the ability to submit your file to a pool of appraisers they know have some knowledge of your local neighborhood. Given the fact that non-local appraisers and the inability to communicate with appraisers under relatively new guidelines for brokerages are responsible for killing loads and loads of deals, working with a company that is or has a bank could be a deal-saving move, especially if the property is in an area that hasn’t had many recent sales or is otherwise challenging to appraise.
Also, some broker/banks that originate loans and sell them straight to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac under the FHA loan programs offer the same benefits of an FHA loan - low down payment and moderate qualification guidelines - without the “overlays” imposed by some larger banks, which actually place a more restrictive set of guidelines on FHA loan programs. For example, FHA guidelines do not impose a minimum credit score, but many banks overlay their own 640 minimum FICO requirement. Broker/banks that sell straight to Fannie and Freddie often mirror the FHA minimum guidelines precisely.
Finally, brokerages with their own in-house bank and a large roster of lenders and programs provide the advantage of offering a wider range of fallback options than plain old banks or plain old brokerages - Plans A, B, C and D, if you will - which many borrowers need these days, in the (increasingly common) case your first choice bank or loan program doesn’t work out.
- Will you explain my Good Faith Estimate to me? May I also have a fee sheet or estimate of funds to close? The current, national standard Good Faith Estimate (GFE) is pretty clear, clarifying all sorts of deal points, from the broker’s commissions to the costs associated with the loan, but as a point of customer service, you should ask your mortgage pro to explain it to you (if they don’t do so under their own initiative).
The one shortfall of the the latest edition of the GFE is that, while it clearly shows the costs associated with a particular loan scenario, it does not always show so clearly the actual amount of funds you’ll need to close the transaction (which might be more or less than those costs)! So, ask your mortgage representative to prepare a fee sheet or an estimate of funds to close as early in the transaction as possible.
- How long will it take to close my loan? How much time will I need for loan and appraisal contingencies? The time frames for closing your mortgage - which often drive the time frames for closing your home purchase - often vary widely depending on the type of loan and even the type of lender you work with.(Large bank loans originated by the bankers who sit inside the branch are notoriously slower to close, on average, than loans originated by brokers.) Similarly, the time it takes to get through the FHA loan appraisal and underwriting process might be much longer than it would take, all things being equal, to clear those hurdles and remove your loan and appraisal contingencies on a Conventional (i.e., non-FHA) mortgage.
When you first meet with your prospective mortgage pro, talk with them about these time frames, so they can help you set realistic expectations and insert realistic time frames into your offer when you make it, to minimize the drama of a contingency clock that ticks way faster than your mortgage process.
- Are there any fees for the mortgage loan application/approval process? Some lenders charge for credit checks up front, and most require that you pay for your appraisal in advance (although the latter happens only after you find and get into contract on your property. One of the first questions you should ask, when you sit down with a new mortgage broker is how much cash you’ll have to come up with just for the privilege of having them run your application and take the first steps down the road to loan approval.
- How long have you been originating loans? And how long have you been with your company? Mortgage pros who have been around for a long time have the knowledge of advance troubleshooting, workarounds and backup plans, and the current underwriting practices it takes to get a loan closed in this restrictive mortgage market. If you found them in some way other than a referral, you can even ask for references from a few clients. Most mortgage pros who have been in business for awhile will be able to give you names and numbers of clients they’ve worked with on multiple purchases and/or refis: that’s a very good sign. You’ll rest a lot easier if you know that your loan is in the hands of a seasoned pro who others like you trust with their largest asset - and largest financial obligation.