More Listing Agents Performing “Sniff Test” on Mortgage Originators

IStock_000019730096XSmallI’m noticing that more listing agents are performing, what I like to call, “sniff test” to check out the lender who has prepared the preapproval letter. By the way, I think this is an excellent idea. This is especially true if the listing agent is reviewing multiple offers, which is happening more in the greater Seattle area with non-distressed homes that are desirable and priced right.

The sniff test is typically a phone call by the listing agent so they can get an idea about the mortgage originator. The listing agent should not ask personal information about the potential home buyer (such as credit scores or available funds). 

When a listing agent contacts me, I know they’re sizing up:


  • how quickly I returned their phone call or email
  • how experienced I am at closing my clients specific mortgage program (for example, Fannie Mae Homepath, Freddie Mac Homesteps or FHA transactions)
  • how long I’ve been in the mortgage industry (over 12 years at Mortgage Master Service Corporation)
  • how quickly we can close by
  • to learn more about our company (family owned and operated since 1976)

I’ve heard from many local real estate agents that they need to make sure the loan can actually close. Often times, a preapproval letter may not be worth more than the paper it’s written on if the mortgage originator has not done their homework with the actual preapproval.  NOTE: you are NOT preapproved unless you have provided your mortgage originator your income and asset documentation. 

I wrote about “investigating your preapproval letter” many years ago at Rain City Guide. The issue with preapproval letters then was probably that anybody and their brother was a mortgage originator back in 2007. Now there are far less mortgage originators however, if the mortgage originator works at a bank or credit union, they may still lack experience (they’re not required to be licensed). A licensed mortgage originator may be new to the industry as well. Some large internet mortgage companies have been hiring LO’s who can pass the national exam but still lack experience. There’s a big difference between being a good a passing exams and successfully closing loans.

While the number of mortgage originators is dramatically down, it’s still important to make sure your mortgage originator has the capability to see your transaction to closing. It may be a consideration to make sure your mortgage originator can pass a sniff test.

Having a Hard Time Finding the “Perfect” Home in Seattle? Consider an FHA 203k Rehab Loan!

Some of my Seattle area clients have been searching for the “just right” home for months.  With a good portion of the available inventory being bank owned, many of the homes have been left in less than desirable condition or perhaps are overdue for a little TLC. If you’ve found a home that needs some work that’s located in a neighborhood you’d like to call home, an FHA 203k rehab loan may be worth your consideration.

FHA 203k loans allow a borrower to finance almost anything to improve the home (exceptions are luxury items, such as swimming pools, hot tubs, fire pits, etc.). Improvements that are allowed are:

  • structural alterations and reconstruction
  • modernization and improvement to the home’s function
  • elimination of health or safety hazards
  • changes that improve appearance and eliminate obsolescence
  • reconditioning or replacing plumbing; repairing or installing a well and/or septic; repairing/replacing electrical issues
  • adding, repairing or replacing roofing, gutters and downspouts
  • adding or replacing floors and/or floor treatments
  • major landscape works and site improvements
  • enhancing accessibility for a disabled person
  • making energy conservation improvements
  • room additions

The cost of the improvements are added to the sales price of the home.  For example, if you find a fixer with a sales price of $250,000 and it needs $40,000 in repairs or improvements, you can finance up to 96.5% of $290,000 (FHA loans currently have a minimum down payment of 3.5%).  

Many home buyers might buy a “fixer” knowing they can do a lot of the work “down the road” or as they can afford it.  With an FHA 203k rehab loan, the work is done after closing and financed with the “purchase money” first mortgage.  This means you’ll have the benefit of current low FHA rates instead of financing improvements with a Home Depot or Lowes credit card, not to mention the income tax benefits.

I recommend starting with a prequalification to see how much mortgage payment you are comfortable with and that you qualify for.  If you’re buying a home anywhere in Washington, I can help you.  Once you know what you qualify for, you can start shopping for homes that you’d like to improve (it doesn’t need to be a foreclosure or a total fixer). By the way, if you need a recommendation to a real estate agent, please let me know.

Once you’ve found a home that you’re interested in, it’s not too early to meet with a HUD approved consultant for a feasibility study. In fact, you can do this before you’re in contract.  This step is very important.  The consultant will help you identify what items HUD will require to be repaired to meet lending standards and make recommendations for improvements and consider your “wish list” for items to be done to the home.  You also want to make sure not to “over improve” your home for the area as the finished product will need to appraise for the adjusted sales price (sales price plus improvements and cost of the 203k loan).  A qualified consultant can help guide you through this part of the process and I’m happy to recommend someone if you’re buying a home anywhere in Washington.

FHA 203k loans tend to take a little longer to process and close than a standard FHA transaction. The total loan amount (sales price plus improvements) is limited to FHA loan loans which is currently $567,500 (until October 1, 2011) in King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties. 

Questions? Please contact me – your next home with your new kitchen is waiting for you. Mortgage Master Service Corporation is a Direct Endorsed HUD approved lender.

Click here for your personal mortgage rate quote for homes located in Washington.

My thoughts on NAR’s Pending Home Sales for April: Mortgage Guidelines are NOT “Excessively Tight”

This morning NAR released the Pending Home Sales report which revealed that "contract signings, dropped 11.6 percent in April from a downwardly revised 92.6 in March. The index is 26.5 percent below a cyclical peak of 111.5 in April 2010 when buyers were rushing to beat the contract deadline for the home buyer tax credit." Pending home sales is a forward indicator since it's reporting on contracts that are signed but not yet closed.

Lawrence Yun, NAR's Chief Economist states that part of reason for the larger than expected drop is due to how difficult it has become to obtain a mortgage. 

“No doubt the continuing excessively tight mortgage underwriting process is making the housing market recovery unnecessarily slow…We simply have to get back to sound, common-sense lending standards to provide mortgages to creditworthy borrowers who are buying homes well within their means. Bank balance sheets show rising cash reserves and declining loan balances – it’s time to loosen the purse strings….” 

It's my experience that it's not that difficult to obtain a mortgage and underwriting guidelines are not "excessively tight".  The difference between qualifying for a mortgage now and pre-2007 is that borrowers must now prove (provide supporting documentation) that they meet program guidelines.  Stated income, low or no-doc loans are gone.  

  • Every penny of your down payment and funds for closing must be documented with complete bank statements (all pages) or other asset accounts being used.
  • Large deposits on your bank statements must be sourced (more documentation) to show where the funds came from.
  • Employment must be steady.  Buyers are not required to have been on the same job for the past two years…heck, they can be out of college (may count as employment) and there may be some unemployment periods…it needs to make sense and be documented.
  • Income must be steady.  If a potential borrower is not paid salary (hourly, commission, bonus, self-employed, etc.) they need to show they've received this type of income for the past two years.
  • Borrowers must be able to afford their home based on their income and debts. Some debts where payments are deferred, like student loans, are factored into your debt-to-income ratios…one day, you are going to have to make payments on it!  
  • Borrowers who take out new debts before funding (closing) of their loan, may find they no longer qualify for their mortgage.  Doesn't this make sense? Yes, home buyers may need new a washer and dryer…however if they're borderline with their credit or pushed with their qualifying ratios, they risk blowing up the purchase just before closing due to "LQI".  Home buyers need to make sure they honestly reflect the loan application from the start of the transaction to finish.

Okay, I'll admit that credit scoring has become tougher. Pre-2007, a person with 600 credit scores (or lower) could qualify for a mortgage.  Now you pretty much need a mid-credit score of 630 or higher for most loan programs.  And their are price hits (risked based pricing) that are factored into interest rates based on loan to value and credit scores.  Credit scores are reflective and borrowers can work on improving their credit scores (and should).  

Income is also scrutinized more than before with 4506Ts being required on every transaction. If your income is higher on your loan application than what you claim on your tax returns, be prepared…you'll be providing additional documentation (tax returns) even if you're paid a salary and your income may be adjusted lower.

Here's where Congress may really muck up the housing recovery, especially in light of this report:

  • Lowering the conforming loan limits, which is scheduled to happen on October 1, 2011.  In the Seattle area, the current conforming loan limit is $567,500.  Effective October 1, 2011, it's set to roll back to $506,000 meaning that loan amounts of $506,001 or higher will be "jumbo" non-conforming.  Jumbo loans have much tougher guidelines and higher rates which does mean that fewer people will qualify for higher priced homes.  Loan limits are also set to be reduced for FHA and VA loans after September 30, 2011.  By the way, 2012 loan limits may be even lower!
  • Increasing the minimum down payment for FHA loans from 3.5% to 5%. Congress is working on this right now and it's been tossed around by our government for quite a while.  Does having 1.5% more "skin" in the game really make a more responsible borrower?  I don't think so.  I would rather see that a borrower have that 1.5% in their savings than invested as down payment (where they do not have access to it should they have an emergency) in a home.

People can still get a mortgage today.  It bothers me that NAR and others are painting that mortgages are too tough to obtain…painting an inaccurate picture does not help the housing market either.  Today's buyer needs to be prepared to provide plenty of paperwork to support they actually qualify for the mortgage by showing they earn what they say, have the funds for closing and are employed.  What's wrong with that?

If you are considering buying a home, I do recommend meeting with a local licensed mortgage professional as early as possible to start on the prequalification process.  If your next home is located anywhere in Washington State, I'm happy to help you!  

PS: I still believe that it would tremendously help the housing markets recover IF home owners who want to refinance and who qualify based on credit, income and employment are allowed to without an appraisal…very similar to an FHA streamline refi. This would allow people who want to stay in their homes and who qualify, to be able to take advantage of today's lower rates and not cause them to be punished due to lower appraised values.

“Going Above and Beyond” is Doing Our Jobs

2011-05-20_09-46-37_561 I received a really nice thank you card from Shannon Ressler at Findwell Realty last week that I want to share with you. We recently helped Shannon's clients buy a vintage bungalow that was a short sell in the Magnolia neighborhood of Seattle using an FHA insured mortgage. Being a short sell and an FHA insured loan, there was no shortage of paper work and the transaction was coming "down to the wire".  

Closing was set to take place on Friday…and early Thursday morning, I received a message from one of our buyers saying he was flying out at noon for a family event…he'd be back on Monday. Luckily Mike was able to reschedule his flight until four, however, we were still in a crunch to get docs out.  NOTE:  I normally like to have loan docs out several days before signing…but sometimes transactions (especially short sales) don't happen that way.

Extentending contracts with short sales can be a chore since in addition to dealing with a buyer and a seller, you also have the seller's lender.  Adding to this, I had renegotiated our clients interest rate lock lower and the lender I had the rate locked with charges a higher extension fee once a rate lock has been renegotiated.  We really needed to close on time.

We were able to rush loan docs out to the escrow company.  As a correspondent lender, we prepare our loan docs at our main office in Kent and we make our own underwriting decisions (following guidelines, of course)…escrow was gracious receiving loan docs last minute AND THEN, their system crashes.  I have to say, I've never had this happen!  Mike's flight out was rapidly approaching.  We were running out of time and escrow's computers were not cooperating.

Marilyn Porter, President of Mortgage Master Service Corporation (and my sister-in-law) had an additional set of their loan docs printed and we arranged to meet our buyers at Sharps Roasters by SeaTac Airport.  While we were heading to Sharps, Mike and Mary obtained their cashiers checks for the estimated amount due for closing. Marilyn even had a couple orders of sliders and fries waiting for everyone…figuring with all the rushing around, they'd probably be hungry.

By the time we were done with the signing, escrow's system was back up and they emailed their docs (escrow instructions, estimated HUD-1 Settlement Statement) to our clients to sign and return. I created a video review of their estimated HUD since escrow was not able to review it with them.  

Our job wasn't over. Escrow needed the buyer's cashiers checks before 4:00 that day in order to have them in time for funding tomorrow. We wound up having the wire instructions emailed to our phones and we deposited the buyers checks directly into escrow's accounts.  

And, I'm happy to say that we DID fund and close on time. 

I am so proud of the crew I work with at Mortgage Master Service Corporation. 

Thank YOU Shannon, for your recommendation and thoughtful card!  Shannon was an asset throughout this transaction, it was a great team effort from all.

How to Select Your Mortgage Originator

I’m working with a West Seattle couple who are getting ready to buy their first home.  This is something that is not unusual for me to hear:

“Our real estate agent was wanting us to contact a few lenders and have them all pull GFEs on the same day with the same perameters so we can choose who to go with. Then whoever has the best rates/lowest fees we were planning to have pull our credit…”

The real estate agent has good intentions, however this may not be the best advice for how to select a mortgage originator.   First of all, this couple may find it difficult to estract a good faith estimate from a mortgage originator without being in contract.  This is due to HUD’s [flawed] regulation that if a LO issues a GFE without a property address, once the buyers actually have a contract, the bona fide address of their new home will not constitute a “changed circumstance”.

It is solid advice that if you’re going to shop lenders, do so at the same time with the same perameters–just don’t expect a good faith estimate.  DO get something in writing from the lender (it may go by many different names, including “rate quote” or “worksheet”, etc).

In addition to rates and fees, here are some other suggestions I think one should consider when selecting the professional who will be helping them obtain the financing of their home:

How long have you been a mortgage originator?  I began originating mortgages on April 1, 2000.  Prior to that, I was in the title and escrow business for 14 years.

What type of mortgage company/institution do you work for?  Most will say bank, correspondent lender (some LO’s will call themselves “mortgage bankers”), mortgage broker or credit union.  Each type of company offers unique advantages or disadvantages.  Mortgage Master Service Corporation is a correspondent lender.

What type of programs does your company offer?  We offer FHA, VA, USDA, Conventional, Jumbo (non-confoming mortgages).   If you’re considering a certain program, such as FHA, ask the LO how long they’ve been originating that specific type of program.

Where are your loans physically underwritten?  I’ve worked with our same underwriters for over 10 years at our main office in Kent since 2000. 

Are you NMLS Licensed or Registered?  There are differences between what each type of LO is required per the SAFE Act between Licensed and Registered LOs.  LO’s who work for a bank or credit union will try to tell you that they’ve been adhering to the SAFE Act…only Washington Licensed LO’s are regulated by DFI and have a license to lose.  There is more required of LO’s who are licensed per the SAFE Act than those who are registered.  I’m NMLS Licensed and have been licensed since 2007 (when state licensing started).

I also recommend “googling” your mortgage originator.  It’s totally my opinion, and perhaps a bit biased, that if your mortgage originator blogs or has a social media profile, their reputation is gold to them.  They tend to be more transparent and current on ever-changing guidelines IF they are writing their own content.   Google me!

How Much Info Can Your Mortgage Originator Share – Part 2

Jillayne I asked Jillayne Schlicke of CE Forward to chime in on a question (below) that I received from one of my readers.  I’m happy to say, she wrote an entire page and therefore, I’m sharing this post, written by Jillayne with you.  Part 1 of this article, where I address the question, can be read by clicking this link.

As a loan originator, is it ethical to deny someone for a loan and then turn around and share not only that the loan was denied, but the EXACT reason the loan was denied (for example: too many NSFs, large deposit in checking account, hours cut back at work, etc.) with the applicant’s Realtor as well as the listing agent who in turn shares it with the sellers?

Jillayne’s response:

[Read more…]

How Much Info can my Mortgage Orignator Share with my Real Estate Agent?

Secretmortgageporter I received this question a while ago from one of my subscribers:

As a lender, is it ethical to deny someone for a loan and then turn around and share not only that the loan was denied, but the EXACT reason the loan was denied (for example: too many NSFs, large deposit in checking account, hours cut back at work, etc.) with the applicant’s realtor as well as the listing agent who in turn shares it with the sellers?

[Read more…]

My Thoughts on the Future of Home Mortgages and Home Ownership

Yesterday, I had the Future of Housing Finance playing in the background as I was working away on rate quotes and lock commitment confirmations for a few of my clients in the Seattle area.  Oh how I wish that I, or a fellow mortgage origintor who has been originating mortgages since pre-subprime days could be on the panel.  Since I'm not, I'm going to share a few of my thoughts on this post.

People who currently have a mortgage and who are credit and income qualified (have made their payments on time) should be allowed to refinance without an appraisal.  This would not only help home owners save hundreds of dollars each month with their mortgage payment, the end benefit would be real stimulus for the economy.

I believe all mortgage originators, regardless of the type of institution they work for, should be held to the highest standards of the SAFE Act.  (Currently mortgage originators who work for banks or credit unions are not licensed).  

I also feel strongly that those who present themselves to be residential mortgage originators (licensed or registered) should not be allowed to also sell real estate.  I'm concerned this has huge potential for fraud and the home buyer is not best served when a real estate agent knows the fine details of the buyers finances.  I view this as a huge conflict of interest.   HUD all ready has this standard: real estate agents cannot originate an FHA insured loan.  I'd like to see this implemented with conventional financing.

Last but not least, not everyone in American needs to or should own a home.   Owning a home is not a right, it's a privelidge that's one's personal financial choice.  And there's nothing wrong with renting a home.  Renting a home, like obtaining a mortgage, is a personal financial choice.  

What are your thoughts?