Should I Buy A Home In A Rising Interest Rate Environment? Explaining The Fed Funds Rate

Rising Interest RatesExecutive Summary:

* You’ll learn why a rising Fed Funds rate doesn’t necessarily mean rising mortgage rates.

* The main determinants of buying a home.

* Where we are in the property market cycle.

* You can always refinance. You can never change the purchase price of your home.

Fed Chair Janet Yellen has signaled her crew will be raising rates by 2016. As a result, you are hearing everybody from real estate brokers to market pundits in the media say, “Buy now before it’s too late!” There’s nothing like a little Fear Of Missing Out to get people to make big decisions without thoroughly thinking things through.

The instant response everybody should have when fed this line is: Don’t higher interest rates make homes less affordable at the margin? If homes are less affordable, doesn’t that hurt property demand? And if demand for property declines, doesn’t that mean prices might go down instead?

Whenever you are talking to someone whose main source of income is through transactions, be a little suspicious. After all, from a real estate broker’s point of view, it’s always a good time to buy or sell!

This post aims to explain how to think about a home purchase (or sale) in a rising interest rate environment. We’ve already discovered how to invest and potentially profit in the stock market when rates rise.

My hope is that this post educates future homebuyers, reduces the number of future debt welchers, and creates a stronger America as a result!

Mortgage As A Forced Savings Account To Build Wealth

Ship in a storm - Money leaking everywhere

Our journey with money

Back in 2000, many investors were cocky, much like investors today with the stock market at record highs. I remember asking my Director at the time what he thought about the concept of the mortgage as a forced savings account? At the time, as an investor, it appeared he could do no wrong.

He said, “I don’t need no forced savings account. Only irresponsible people who don’t have the discipline to save every month would consider their mortgage as savings. I’d rather have as big of a mortgage as possible so I can make money in the stock market!

My Director ended up losing millions when the dotcom bubble collapsed. He no longer looked down on people who slowly grew their wealth. At least, unlike most people, he had millions to lose!

If you have a traditional mortgage that pays down principal and interest, the mortgage “forces” you to save because you are forced to pay your mortgage every month if you want to keep your property. A percentage of each mortgage payment goes towards principal, which can be considered savings.

I’m also in the camp that it’s better for most people to receive a tax refund, even though it’s like giving the government an interest free loan, because most people can’t save for crap!

Mortgage Payoff Fees And Procedures To Know

Mortgage Payoff Letter Sent

Final mortgage payment!

“Work a lifetime to pay off a house. You finally own it, and there’s nobody to live in it.” – Death Of A Salesman

After twelve years of methodically refinancing my property whenever rates dipped, and consistently paying down principal every month, I finally own my two bedroom condo in Pacific Heights, San Francisco free and clear!

The condo originally cost $580,000, which I thought was relatively good value for a 2/2 with parking and a park view in 2003. I had relocated from Manhattan two years earlier where all park view condos cost a bloody fortune. Go watch Millionaire Dollar Listing New York to see for yourself. My condo is nothing fancy, but it has everything one needs to live a comfortable life in my favorite city in America.

According to Zillow, USAA, and a one bedroom sale in the same building last month, the value of the condo could be worth double its purchase price with a little bit of updating. Whatever the real value is, I don’t plan on ever selling because it is an income generating engine. Real estate is “forced savings” at its finest.

Mortgage Refinance Failure: Lending Standards Remain Very Tight

Mortgage Refinance Failure

Mortgage Refinance Failure

It’s official. I’ve failed in my attempt to refinance a $1 million 5/1 ARM mortgage from 2.625% down to 2.25%. Am I disappointed? Yes. But am I surprised? Not really. Bank lending continues to be extremely tight post the financial crisis. I wish all freelancers, contractors, and folks looking to minimize their debt only the best of luck!

Financial failure is great because it allows us to learn from our mistakes, make better decisions, and get wealthier over the long term. I’ve got a whole list of financial mistakes I’ve made in the past if you care to take a look.

I’m of the belief we should always take action to improve our finances. Letting the housing market increase or decrease in value doesn’t take any effort once a property is purchased. But imagine experiencing an effortless increase in property values while putting some legwork into reducing mortgage costs. That’s a winning combination.

This post offers up some plain truths as to why I failed, and what I plan to do about it. Maybe you’re having a tough time refinancing yourself? This post may offer some comfort, hope and direction.

How To Get The Lowest Mortgage Interest Rate Possible

Time to refinance a mortgage once againI must be mad, because after multiple mortgage refinances, I’ve decided to take my own advice on improving my cash flow further by trying to refinance my mortgage again! I say “trying” because getting a mortgage or refinancing a mortgage is still not a slam dunk like it was pre-2007.

Lending standards are strict with ~729 being the average credit score for denied mortgage applicants. Furthermore, my debt-to-income ratio could be a problem because 100% of my 1099 (freelance income) won’t count for 2014 because banks require two years of 1099 income, and I’ve only got 14 months worth.

Can you believe that? Even if I made $800,000 in freelance income over the past twelve months, big banks would still disavow all of it and likely reject even a small mortgage refinance amount if I had no other income. Banks should discount 1099 income by some amount, but not by 100%. There’s a growing misconception now that full-time income is more stable. A full-time employee is betting on one horse. An independent contractor can bet on multiple horses.

Now is absolutely the time to refinance because the 10-year treasury yield has fallen below 1.8% (1.68% as of 2/2/2015). We’re back to all-time lows. Volatility is up, collapsing oil prices are stoking fears of weak global consumer demand, and chaos reigns once again in Europe. I’m glad there isn’t anymore US government shutdown drama at the very least.

I’ve got two years left on a ~$1 million dollar jumbo 5/1 ARM at $4,338 a month at 2.625%. My goal is to refinance this puppy down to a 2.25% 5/1 ARM at $3,822 a month, for a cost of less than $3,000. The annual interest savings is $3,750, and the monthly cash flow increase is $516 or $6,192 a year. That’s a good move towards my unwavering quest to generate $200,000 a year in passive income. 

Why I’m Paying Down My Mortgage Early And Why You Should Too

Pay down mortgage have

The original bath

After buying my latest primary residence, I now have four mortgages. Three mortgages felt OK since one was a primary home mortgage, the other is a vacation home mortgage that produces income, and the last one is a rental property mortgage that is cash flowing nicely. But four mortgages feels like too much, and I plan on doing something about it by paying one off!

I’m sure only a small minority of you think having four mortgages is OK. Even though being leveraged in a rising real estate market is good for building net worth, eventually the good times will end.

What’s interesting about personal finance is that we all have different levels of risk tolerance. Some people aren’t comfortable with any debt, hence they don’t borrow anything. I admire such people for their ability to live thoroughly within their means. Other people let lifestyle inflation get the best of them and take out massive debt that is not comfortably supported by their income. Obtaining credit is so easy in America. The only people who annoy me are those who expect others to constantly bail them out.

One of the curiosities about debt is the joyous process of getting into and out of debt. There’s a certain thrill of buying things with debt. Everybody wants something they can’t have or fully afford, including myself. Then once we reach a maximum debt limit, it’s almost equally as fun getting out of debt. Each $1 that is paid down feels like a victory. We tell our friends about our progress and look like heroes. It’s a win both ways!

This post will review my thoughts on the ideal mortgage amount based off the ideal income amount, discuss the history of my first mortgage, share more reasons why I’m paying down that mortgage, and my new mortgage pay down strategy. 

The Average Credit Score For Approved Mortgages Is Declining

average-fico-approved-mort

Before the recession, average FICO scores for approved mortgages averaged around 720. 720 is actually the cut-off point between “Good” and “Excellent” credit. Given the housing market collapsed nationwide anyway, one shouldn’t be too impressed with a 720 credit score. A 720 credit score should be viewed as average, at least from this loan officer’s perspective.

After the housing bubble burst, the average score for approved mortgage applicants shot up to 769 from 2009 until the end of 2012. A 769 credit score beats out 80% of all other credit scores out of 850. In other words, banks weren’t lending to hardly anybody. The upside is that the probability of a similar type of housing crash in the future has declined.

The “good news” for borrowers is that according to Fannie Mae the average credit score of an approved mortgage applicant is now down to 741 as of the first quarter of 2015. I say “good news” because it’s brutal for even good income earners to get a mortgage nowadays. Many renters I know have been shut out of the housing market simply because they can’t get a loan.

Although credit standards are loosening, a credit score of 741 is still a pretty high hurdle to overcome given you still need a good income and a healthy balance sheet to cover borrowing ratios. But at the margin, a lower credit score hurdle should allow more people to borrow money to further support the housing market recovery. I still see little signs of sub-prime mortgages or negative amortization mortgages returning. But one thing we should be concerned with is the latest Federal Housing Administration initiative to get Boomerang Buyers back in.

Why It’s So Hard To Get A Mortgage According To A Loan Officer

Dream KitchenI shared with you my most recent painful journey in qualifying for a mortgage. It’s not over yet as the underwriter now wants a signed copy from my CPA on his company letterhead of all my company’s financials. My CPA said he charges $3,800 for a thorough audit, so I told him to go jump in a lake. Instead, I sent off my company’s financials with my signature and told my bank to take it or leave it. I think they’ll take it because I’ve fulfilled every single item on their 21 point check list. We shall see.

My mortgage pain post was shared around the web and I ended up having a good dialogue with a loan officer. He shared with me some frank insights as to why it’s so hard to get a mortgage nowadays.

If you are easily offended, I suggest skipping this post. But if you can handle the truth, and if you want to gain some perspective from someone who controls millions of dollars in loans to satisfy property buyer’s wishes, then read on. 

How Difficult Is It To Get A Mortgage Nowadays? Brutally Difficult And Extremely Painful

Hidden Mosaic Steps, San FranciscoOne of the reasons why I don’t think the next housing collapse will be as long and painful is because getting a mortgage since 2008 has become brutally difficult. There was a time when no-documentation mortgages, negative amortization mortgages, and NINJA loans (no income, no job, no asset) were common place. Those loans are equivalent to when passengers could smoke on airplanes so long as they were in a “smoking row.” Unbelievable.

I documented back in 2012 that it took 100 days to refinance my mortgage. It was a painful experience given just two years before it only took 45 days to refinance. I was anxious the refinance wouldn’t go through because once you don’t have any W2 income, you are DEAD TO BANKS. I was determined to save an extra $300+ in mortgage interest a month if it killed me. Definitely refinance your mortgage BEFORE you quit or engineer your layoff folks.

Now that it’s 2015 and the economy seems to be much better, you’d think that getting a loan would be a little easier. Nope. Getting a mortgage is as brutal as ever. Let me share my latest journey.

No Financing Contingency Offer: A Way To Pay All Cash For A Property Without Having The Cash

Park ViewIt’s official. I lost my first overbid in this crazy San Francisco property market.

The property was a single family house, 3/3, on a small lot, overlooking a park asking $1.299 million (picture). I’ve known the listing agent for a while and she mentioned that $1.35 million would get it done, but I was thinking $1.2 million instead. She had two other over-asking offers, but I couldn’t muster up the courage to bid more than $1.315 million.

It wasn’t a big loss because the property didn’t tug at my heart. I figure, if I’m going to be spending more than a million bucks on a property, I better be excited, or else why bother. Yes, property prices are crazy out here in San Francisco, but this price point is actually relatively good value.

I’ve been agonizing over paying down my existing rental property mortgages or leveraging up to buy more property. The jury is still out, but I’m willing to at least prospect around to see if there’s anything I like before making a decision. Besides, I figure this latest house hunting experience will provide good educational content for other folks looking to buy in a hot property market.