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MORTGAGE LENDERS TRY TO ATTRACT BUYERS WITH ‘BUY NOW, REFINANCE LATER’ OPTIONS


Mortgage lenders went through a serious downturn last year, and many companies were forced to lay off staff in an effort to remain in business as interest rates jumped and buyers fled. Now the players are back and ready to fight for market share, trying out new promotions designed to attract home buyers.

Will these tactics work in boosting business? “If the economic backdrop is not favorable, we’ll see lower mortgage rates — but that may not be enough to spur lending activity,” Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate, said.

“It’s not just a function of what happens with rates … if the economy is on a very weak footing, that’s going to temper demand among many would-be homebuyers,” he added.

Overall, sentiment is still pretty weak: Only 17% of consumers surveyed by Fannie Mae FNMA, -1.83% in January said that it’s a good time to buy a home, compared to 52% in January 2021.

“Consumer sentiment toward the housing market remains subdued by historical standards,” Doug Duncan, senior vice president and chief economist at Fannie Mae, said in a statement.

“Until we see improvements in affordability via lower home prices and mortgage rates, we expect home sales to remain muted in the coming months,” he added.

Lenders are trying out new tricks to boost interest — and demand — for mortgages. Here are three new promotions that MarketWatch spotted in the last few weeks.

Buy now, but refinance later

Seattle-based Flyhomes’ mortgage division is offering a “Buy Now Refi Later” promotion, where a homebuyer who takes out a loan with the company can refinance for free later if rates drop. This helps them avoid refinancing fees, and other costs.

Refinancing involves the buyer paying closing costs, which on average are about $5,000, according to Freddie Mac FMCC, -3.13%. The cost of refinancing a mortgage can also vary between 2% to 6% of the loan amount, per LendingTree.

Wrap the mortgage process up in one day

New York City-based Better.com is offering a one-day mortgage process to speed things up for homebuyers. The company said that the traditional loan approval process takes days to complete, while their product allows consumers to get their pre-qualification letter within a few hours.

Sellers can transfer their rate to the buyer

Anaheim, Calif.-based Carrington Mortgage Services, is talking about helping buyers get “assumable mortgages” where qualified home buyers can purchase a home, and also take over the seller’s mortgage rates.

This is especially interesting, as some sellers have secured ultra-low mortgage rates and are worried about that precious deal going away.

Assumable mortgages have been around for decades, but it has been largely untapped — for a good reason. While the move is highly desirable in principle, it’s also incredibly complicated to pull off. These loans are notoriously tricky and hard to operate, as HousingWire described recently.

The bottom line: These promotions won’t move the needle on volume drastically, given the dynamics of the broader housing sector. Even if rates do come down, “the inventory of homes available for sale is still very limited,” McBride said, particularly for first-time buyers looking for their starter home.

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