Spend a few hours listening to the radio and you’ll be bombarded with ads offering to finance or refinance your home. (And don’t be surprised if you find yourself humming along with the theme music from a variety of debt consolidators.)
If it were only that easy. Still, the best way to find the right home loan or refinance deal for you is to start searching for information on various mortgage lenders, interest rates and products. Then comes the hard part: sorting out which loan is right for you.
Where can you find the best information on mortgage programs and interest rates? Consider checking out these sources:
Online. Almost everything you need to know about mortgages is easily available on the web. Fannie Mae (Homepath.com or Fanniemae.com) and Freddie Mac (Freddiemac.com), the two quasi-private institutions (which trade on the New York Stock Exchange), have excellent websites chock full of information on buying a home and getting a mortgage.
Bank Rate Monitor’s web site (BankRate.com) is devoted to providing the latest interest rate information for mortgages, as well as car loans and credit cards. Aggregators like Microsoft’s HouseandHome.com, LendingTree.com, PricelineMortgage.com, and Eloan.com all provide helpful information, in addition to allowing you to play with calculators. Large national mortgage companies like Countrywide Home Loans (Countrywide.com) and Bank of America (bankofamerica.com) also have good websites, typically in several languages.
The largest mortgage companies’ websites offer good, time-tested information. But new sites are always emerging. To stay on top of it, try the International Real Estate Digest (www.ired.com), which ranks sites by their usability.
Newspapers. The real estate section of your local newspaper probably has something like a “mortgage watch” column. This column offers a list of maybe five or ten local mortgage companies and what loans, at which rates, they’re currently offering.
As you peruse this list each week, remember that those rates are anywhere from 4 to 10 days old, and the interest rate may have shifted up or down. If you call one of those companies, don’t ask for the rate you saw in the newspaper. Instead, ask them for their lowest rate on a 30-year or 15-year or 1-year ARM.
Mortgage companies also advertise heavily in the real estate section. You can call several of those companies to inquire about rates and programs as well. If you go online to the newspaper’s website, you should be able to click on the real estate section and find more current rates.
Real Estate Agents and Brokers. Real estate agents usually know which local mortgage companies offer good rates. Heck, your agent’s firm probably owns its own mortgage company (not to mention title or escrow company, alarm system company and perhaps even appraisal company).
A good agent should be prepared to give you a list of at least 3 different mortgage companies he or she knows provide excellent service and fair prices, in addition to the one owned by her firm.
Visit a Local Lender. Walk into your local bank, savings and loan, or credit union (credit unions typically have really inexpensive mortgages for their members) and ask for their free information (they should have gobs of it).
Call Your Local Housing Authority. Your local housing authority is an excellent place for free information. It may also have special programs for first-time buyers. These programs could include down payment assistance or extra-low interest rate loans for families who meet certain income or location requirements. If you qualify, you may be able to get a loan that carries an interest rate that’s well below the market rate.
Yes, Even The Federal Government Has Free Information. Write to Consumer Publications, Pueblo, Colorado, 81003 and ask for their free information guide. Or go online to Pueblo.gsa.gov. A word of warning, however. These federal publications talk about mortgages in general. They’re good as far as they go, which isn’t nearly far enough. If you find you have questions after reading through one of these little booklets, call your local mortgage company and ask questions.