Both in my personal experience, as I see transactions through escrow to closing, and in the continuing education classes I have lately been taking, I am seeing some very strong changes in lending guidelines. These changes are coming from the Federal Government as part of addressing the mortgage crisis that our country has recently endured. I think that it is important, no matter where you fit into the real estate picture, to understand these changes and adapt your expectations and behavior to accommodate them. The days of having a credit score and a pulse to get a mortgage are over. The days of a 30 day escrow are going to be rare, and here is why:
The first big change in lending practices happened June 1 of 2009 with the implementation of MIDA, the Mortgage Improvement Disclosure Act. This Federal law requires that every time a borrower receives a Good Faith Estimate (the paperwork that lays out estimated costs to obtain a mortgage) the borrower must be given a 7-day disclosure period in which to become knowledgeable of the terms of the mortgage and either accept those terms or shop for a better deal. It makes sense. Buyers are faced with a very large and important financial decision. They need to understand what they are doing and approve of the loan product that they will be obtaining. It gives a borrower some breathing room in the process so that they are not pressured into a loan that they will later on regret. Where it gets dicey is if any changes happen to the loan while it’s in escrow. Every time a change occurs that affects the APR by more than 1/8th, a new Good Faith Estimate must be issued and a new 7 day disclosure period must pass. So let’s say that a buyer does not lock their interest rate until just prior to closing and the rate changes. The lender can not allow closing of the sale until that 7-day disclosure period has passed. A more common variable would be if the buyer has a home inspection and chooses to have the seller pay some of his closing costs in lieu of repairs. When the seller pays the buyers closing costs it changes the buyers Good Faith Estimate and a new 7-day disclosure period must pass. This is not going to be a big deal if all parties go into the escrow period understanding how important it is to allow time for disclosure periods and being aware of what can trigger them. I think it is more important than ever to lock in your interest rate early in the escrow period so that you don’t get thrown for a loop at the last minute.
The other changes that are occurring are a result of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, which goes into effect on January 1, 2010.
The Federal Government has now defined what constitutes a pre-approval on a loan application. In the past a buyer would make a loan application prior to making an offer on a house. That buyer could then provide a letter of pre-approval from a lender showing that they are approved as a borrower but subject to finding a house. The Federal Government is now saying that no loan approvals can be given without an address attached to the approval. So a borrower can get pre-qualified for a loan (credit report pulled and debt to income factored to estimate that they can be approved in the future) but they can not get pre-approved.
The next big change is the change to required Federal forms for both the Good Faith Estimates and for final HUD Settlement Statements. I have seen the new Good Faith Estimate forms and I like them. They look more like a worksheet. And they have very clear sections where the lender must put in total sum numbers for “all other settlement charges”. So many lenders call their fees by different names. So a borrower, when comparing loan programs, would have to compare a variety of charges that, because they had different names, were confusing. By requiring a lump sum figure it doesn’t matter the names of the charges or even the quantity. What matters is the bottom line and this new form makes it easy for a borrower to see the sum total and compare sum totals between lenders. Once the Good Faith Estimate is given the lender is required to allow the borrower 10 days to shop other loan programs. The Good Faith Estimate has blank columns that line up next to the estimate given that allows a borrower to write in the fees they find with other lenders. The finished form will clearly show the borrower the various costs for various programs. I think it is an improvement.
Another change is that there is a 3-day disclosure program for the appraisal. This means that the borrower must be given a copy of the completed appraisal at least 3 days prior to closing so that they can look it over and understand it. The days of the appraisal being given to the borrower when they sign the loan papers, or perhaps even having to request that it be mailed to them, are over. Again, I think this is an improvement. Not only do buyers deserve to see the documentation of value, it just seems like professional courtesy to take this extra step.
Finally, there is what is called the 10% Tolerance. At closing the numbers given in the Good Faith Estimate are lined up against the actual settlement charges on the HUD Settlement Statement. If there is a difference in the charges of 10% or greater, the lender must absorb the difference. This can be done by reducing the lender charges at closing or by reimbursing the borrower within 30 days of closing. Seriously, this is a big IMPROVEMENT for borrowers.
All of these changes are going to mean that if there is a mortgage involved, it will take a little longer to close a transaction. Realistically, you should expect escrow to last about 45 days. And as much as the buyer and seller might be willing to close sooner, the process can not be rushed. These are Federal guidelines that preclude the terms of the written contract.
I have got to share one more word of advice. If you are buying a home and you have made an offer that has been accepted, do not purchase ANYTHING using credit. Lenders are now pulling credit reports just prior to funding the loan. If your credit score has changed or your credit card balances have increased, it can kick your new mortgage right back into underwriting. This recently happened to a buyer of one of my listings. Not only did he have to pay off the new credit card charges, but we had to wait an entire week for the lower credit card balances to be reflected on a new credit report from one of the National credit reporting bureaus. It delayed closing on the purchase for 2 weeks. So much for moving in by Thanksgiving……
So be aware, be patient, and be realistic about what to expect. There is a new lending environment, but for the most part it does benefit the borrower. Change can be a good thing.
If you would like a pdf of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, click here.