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 uncertaintyâhello, record-low interest ratesâbut also plenty of changes to keep up with. Mortgage lending looks much different now than at the start of the year.
Whether youâre applying for a new mortgage, struggling to pay your current mortgage, or curious about refinancing, hereâs 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 about mortgage interest rates: âRates have been very low in recent weeks, and have come back down to their absolute lowest levels in a long time,â says Yuri Umanski, senior mortgage consultant at Premia Relocation Mortgage in Troy, MI.
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.
âAcross the industry, underwriting a mortgage has become an even more complex process,â says Steve Kaminski, head of U.S. residential lending at TD Bank. âMany of the third-party partners that lenders rely onâcounty offices, appraisal firms, and title companiesâhave closed or taken steps to mitigate their exposure to COVID-19.â
Even if you can file your mortgage application online, Kaminski says many steps in the process traditionally 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 âdrive-by appraisalâ instead of a thorough, more traditional appraisal inside the home.
âAnd curbside closings with masks and gloves started to pop up all over the country,â Umanski adds.
2. Be ready to prove (many times) that you can pay a mortgage
If youâve lost your job or been furloughed, you might not be able to buy your dream house (or any house) right now.
âWhether you are buying a home or refinancing your current mortgage, you must be employed and on the job,â says Tim Ross, CEO of Ross Mortgage Corp. in Troy, MI. âIf 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.â
Lenders are also taking extra steps to verify each borrowerâs 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, but âI am now seeing employment verification needed seven to 10 timesâsometimes even every three days,â says Tiffany Wolf, regional director and senior loan officer at Cabrillo Mortgage in Palm Springs, CA. âTodayâs borrowers need to be patient and readily available with additional documents during this difficult and uncharted time in history.â
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 borrowersâ credit scores.
âMany 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,â says Randall Yates, founder and CEO of The Lenders Network.
Even if you arenât 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.
âThese changes are temporary, but I would expect them to stay in place until the entire country is opened back up and the unemployment numbers drop considerably,â Yates says.
4. Forbearance isn’t forgivenessâyou’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 youâve lost your job and are struggling to make your mortgage payments, you could go months without owing a payment. But forbearance isnât a given, and it isnât always all itâs cracked up to be.
âThe CARES Act is not designed to create a freedom from the obligation, and the forbearance is not forgiveness,â Ross says. âMissed payments will have to be made up.â
Youâll 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 youâre eligible for forbearance, call your loan servicerâdonât just stop making payments.
If your deferment period is ending and youâre still unable to make payments, you can request delaying payments for additional months, says Mark O’ Donovan, CEO of Chase Home Lending at JPMorgan Chase.
After you resume making your payments, you may be able to defer your missed payments to the end of your mortgage, OâDonovan says. Check with your loan servicer to be sure.
5. Don’t be too fast to refinance
Current homeowners might be eager to refinance and score a lower interest rate. Itâs not a bad idea, but itâs not the best move for everyone.
âHomeowners should consider how long they expect to reside in their home,â Kaminski says. âThey should also account for closing costs such as appraisal and title insurance policy fees, which vary by lender and market.â
If you plan to stay in your house for only the next two years, for example, refinancing might not be worth itâhefty closing costs could offset the savings you would gain from a lower interest rate.
âItâs 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,â Kaminski adds.
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.
âThis may be a great time to take out a home equity line to consolidate debt,â Umanski says. âThis process will help reduce the total obligations on a monthly basis and allow for the balance to be refinanced into a much lower rate.â
Just be careful not to overimprove your home at a time when the economy and the housing market are both in flux.
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