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Finding the Best Interest Rate

I recently went online in an attempt to find the best interest rate for a 30-year, fixed-rate JUMBO real estate loan with 65 percent loan-to-value. I did not go to a comparison site, but a single lender’s site, where I entered my information and requested their lowest rate.

I shared the information a lender would need to give me their lowest interest rate: my annual income, net worth, FICO (credit) score, and property value, along with my contact information. Within a day or so I was receiving calls from 7:30 am to 7:30 pm from all sorts of people trying to sell me their loan services. My email inbox blew up with emails offering rates from as low as 2.5 percent to 6 percent.

Although I didn’t intend to have my information shared with a bunch of people, I figured I’d ask the same question of each lender: what is your lowest interest rate given the criteria above? Many of them wouldn’t give me a rate unless I allowed them to run a credit check, which I wouldn’t. The more often you allow people to check your credit score, the worse your score becomes. In essence, if I allowed them to run my credit, I’d have to stick with them.

Some lenders said they needed to run the credit check because each situation is different. While that is true—each loan is unique—their lowest rate doesn’t change. Regardless, they danced around the answer but wouldn’t give it to me.

These were nationwide companies—the ones you see ads for on TV—not local lenders. The few who did give me a rate often gave me rates that were too good to be true. I could tell I wasn’t getting a straight answer.

I realized later that I had been too vague. I should have asked for their best annual percentage rate (APR), because the term “interest rate” can be used to mean an introductory rate or some other special rate. Then they make up the difference between that low rate and the profit margin they want by charging fees (called points).

APR is a legal term. It’s a metric that was developed specifically to allow buyers to shop for loans using an apples-to-apples comparison. Otherwise, it can be really hard to know which loan is best.

If someone offers you a 30-year, fixed-rate loan at 4.5 percent with 2 points, is that better or worse than a loan at 4.75 percent with no points? As it happens, the 4.5 percent with 2 points is slightly better over 30 years. However, if you’d asked about a 15-year, fixed-rate loan, the 4.75 percent loan would be better. This is why you need to ask for the APR.

To avoid disingenuous lenders who are simply out to make a quick sale, I highly recommend asking your Realtor for a referral to a loan officer they trust. When you live in a small town, it becomes obvious in a hurry whether you’re out to fleece people or whether you’re providing a good value for your clients.

With local lenders, you won’t get calls at all hours of the day and night, but you should get straight answers. The loan process will still require a mountain of paperwork with W2s, bank statements, tax returns and the like (and if you’re self-employed, the mountain will be twice as high), but at least you’ll get a solid loan without hidden fees or surprise balloon payments.

It’s okay to buy some things online. Loans are not one of them.

If you have questions about getting into real estate, please contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or call (707) 462-4000. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at www.richardselzer.com. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.