While it may be tempting to choose a mortgage based only on the interest rate, finding the right lender is more than a numbers game. Some closings fall through, for example, because a lender doesn’t get the paperwork done in time—which could make your bid for that dream house a nightmare.
Besides comparing rates, monthly payments, and closing costs, there are other questions to ask. For example, in today’s competitive market it makes sense to choose a mortgage professional who’s responsive and whom you can get hold of outside normal business hours, should you need to act quickly.
What follows is a list of the area’s most recommended mortgage lenders. To put together this list, we sent surveys to hundreds of area real-estate agents as well as to thousands of subscribers. The names on this list received the most votes.
That doesn’t mean that a lender not on this list isn’t right for you. It also doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your homework on whichever professional you choose. Here are a few more points to consider.
Understand the different types of lenders. Banks, credit unions, online lenders, correspondent lenders, and mortgage brokers can all arrange loans. Some general rules of thumb: Credit unions tend to have the best rates (though you’ll need to be a member), while banks may have special deals for account holders. Non-bank mortgage lenders are known for a quick turnaround. Online lenders have a reputation for advertising unrealistic rates and carry a high risk of scams—though Quicken Loans ranks very high for mortgage-origination satisfaction.
Although brokers generally have higher initial costs, they can spare you the hassle of comparing loans and can access funds unavailable through other types of lenders—which can be key if you have a low credit rating or a high debt-to-income ratio.
A correspondent lender is a hybrid—shopping rates at multiple lenders, like a broker, but originating the loan directly, like a bank. If you’re confused about which sort of lender someone is, just ask.
No matter which type you look at, it’s a good idea to get fees spelled out in writing.
Request multiple estimates. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recommends that borrowers get multiple bids; those who do tend to pay less over the life of a loan. A lender shouldn’t charge more than $30—the cost of a credit report—for an estimate. Pulling multiple credit inquiries within 45 days won’t affect your credit score.
Compare offers. Once you have multiple standardized Loan Estimates, compare the interest rates; closing costs and other fees; prepayment penalties; and lifetime costs. Find out if it’s a Qualified Mortgage, a less risky option that meets the ability-to-repay rule. Whichever offer you choose, bring the Loan Estimate to closing to compare against the Closing Disclosure form. For an explanation of the mortgage process, you can check the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s website. (Search for “know before you owe” at consumerfinance.gov.)
Don’t be afraid to negotiate. Lenders make money from your loan. Expect them to compete for your business. You may be able to negotiate down origination or application fees, get credit toward closing costs, arrange to buy down points to lower the interest rate, or haggle to put down less than 20 percent. Just be sure to keep an eye on every line item—when lenders are asked to adjust one fee or rate, they may raise another.