The housing market is heating up, yet many house hunters are not prepared to take on the biggest purchases of their lives. When it comes to home loans, homebuyers answered basic questions about terms, how to choose a lender and financing wrong nearly one-third of the time, according to an April survey of more than 1,000 current and prospective homeowners by real estate website Zillow. Among the survey’s findings, 31% of buyers don’t think it’s possible to get a home loan for less than 5% down; 34% don’t know what the term “annual percentage rate” (APR) means and one in four believe you must close with the lender that pre-approves your home loan.
And 24% of buyers believe the best deals are available through the banks where they currently have their savings and checking accounts, but often competing lenders can undercut those banks by large margins. “If a homebuyer can lower their interest rate by even half a percentage point, they can not only increase their purchasing power, but save thousands of dollars over the life of the loan,” said Lantz. Many house hunters go shopping with financing in place because it enables them to act more quickly if they see a home they want. But 26% of buyers believe that once they’re pre-approved, they’re obligated to close the deal with those loans, according to the survey. In reality, there’s no obligation.
Existing homeowners can also be guilty of ignorance. Some 20% of homeowners surveyed didn’t know that underwater loans — those in which borrowers owe more than their homes are worth — can be refinanced into lower rate loans. Finally, the survey found that nearly a third of homeowners are unaware that if they go through a foreclosure or short sale, they may not have to wait the full seven years it takes for their credit score to recover and they can buy a home again. In reality, some homeowners who do short sales can obtain financing to buy another home in as little as two years.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is hoping to make it easier for homebuyers with simplified forms that help them compare terms and costs and by creating new rules that will protect homeowners from getting into loans they can’t afford.