Wednesday, August 17, 2011

NeighborWorks America Sees Obstacles to Significant Refinance Activity

Record low mortgage interest rates should be a boost to the economy as homeowners reduce their monthly housing costs and recycle the monthly savings back into the economy. But Marietta Rodriguez, National Director of Homeownership and Lending at NeighborWorks America, points out three realities of today’s mortgage market that suggest a refinance wave may not happen for many homeowners.
  1. It is more difficult to qualify for a mortgage these days than ever before. Prior to the housing bust, a credit score of 650 made a homeowner easily eligible for the lowest rate available. Today, a homeowner needs a much higher credit score — often above 700 — to obtain the lowest rate possible, and make refinancing a net positive.

    "With today's risk-based pricing for mortgages, it's not unusual for a homeowner who wants to refinance to hear about the record low rates in the market, and is surprised to learn that he doesn't qualify for that rate. The risk-based rate could be a percentage point or higher, sometimes making a refinance not worth it at all," said Robert Tourigny, executive director of NeighborWorks Greater Manchester, and the local NeighborWorks HomeOwnership Center.

  2. Once a homeowner has decided that she wants to pursue a refinance, the reality of just how much home equity was lost in the housing crisis becomes plain. Without 20 percent equity, the best mortgage rates are out of reach. Ten percent gets a seat at the refi table, but 28 percent of homeowners with a mortgage are “underwater,” or owe more than their homes are worth, according to research firm Zillow.

    “Even those homeowners who have a sufficient credit score — millions of them — are just unable to participate because they don’t the home equity to qualify for a refinance mortgage,” said Rodriguez.

  3. A homeowner who can't bring closing costs to the table— typically at least one percent of the refi loan amount— also can't refinance into a lower mortgage payment, and strengthen their household budgets. Household income is still not robust, and while savings rates have increased since the recession began, not many homeowners have the thousands of dollars in cash required to pay for closing costs.

    “The bottom line is that although mortgage rates haven't seen levels like this in decades, forces beyond the interest rate will likely hold back any significant refinance activity — the kind that we would expect to see when mortgage rates dropped to these levels,” said Rodriguez.

Homeowners who are considering taking the first step to refinance their mortgage are encouraged to see a homeownership advisor from one of the more than 100 NeighborWorks HomeOwnership Centers located around the country.

A local NeighborWorks HomeOwnership Center can be found at