What's the Key to Locking In?
In September, 1998 when mortgage interest rates hit rock bottom, no one had
more reason to celebrate than the millions of consumers who locked-in the
sweetest interest rate since 1968. But since that time, interest rates have
taken consumers on a roller coaster ride. Although the peaks and valleys have
not been enormous, rates spiked up past 7 percent, creating uncertainty for
bargain-hungry home buyers trying to decide whether to lock their interest
rate or "float" with the market. How do you know when to lock-in? It's not
an easy question, says Jim DeBoth of The Journal Newspapers.
Locks are available for varying time spans, from 10 days to 120 days. The
average length is 30 days which is about how long it takes a loan officer to
process a loan after receiving documentation. The lock-in can include just
the interest rate or both points and interest rate. In a fluctuating market
you'll need to decide if you're the adventurous type. If current rates are
high and expected to drop, you could just wait and "float" with the market
until locking in at the time of settlement.
So scrutinize the market and decide if rates are fluctuating fast enough to
lock-in or not. When dealing with construction delays or the need to sell
their existing home, home buyers need to consider the fluctuations that could
occur during a long wait. Longer locks of 60 days or more make sense if
you're satisfied with the current rate and don't want to gamble but typically,
the longer the lock, the higher the rate and points you'll be charged. Intense
competition has led loan providers to be more creative in the deals they
offer. Some lenders are offering a "float-down" option that lets the rate
drop if it goes below the lock-in rate. Beware of fees, however, that might
make this deal less than attractive. Ask for the exact fees and interest
Times have changed from the days of the locally owned and managed neighborhood
bank. You're no longer dealing with just the bank officer--he or she is
probably answerable to another central bank official in a distant city.
Accordingly, what you see is frequently what you get. But don't let that stop
you from bargaining or threatening to take your business elsewhere. Shop
around for the best rate and lock-in terms available.
Whatever you do, get it in writing. Don't risk any nasty surprises at the
settlement table. If there's any dispute about the rate or points, you'll be
stuck without a written agreement. Remember to get your personal financial
paperwork organized as soon as possible, especially if rates are currently
good. Most borrowers must provide documentation within a week of locking in a
rate. You'll need pay stubs, W-2s, or other proof of income; bank account
numbers; bank statements and your branch address; all loan and credit card
numbers; names and addresses of creditors; and evidence such as cancelled
checks of your other mortgage or rental payments.