Friday, February 13, 2009

Interest Rate Update

Now that the weather has moderated a little, we're starting to see some activity in the real estate market. One question on everyone's mind is the forecast for interest rates over the next few months. It's particularly true for those who are refinancing, since some banks allow you to take one "drop" between commitment and closing. Therefore, people want to know whether rates will go down more.

Of course, the correct answer is: Who knows? But I think most betting people feel that the governmental stimulus and drive to improve the economy will result in incentives of every kind that could possibly help the housing market. That would argue for lower rates to come. I don't think they'll be much lower, or for much longer, since banks are paying 5% for the TARP money. So how long can they really afford to loan it out at less than 5%?

So, if they are going to go down to 4 and 1/2, even for a little while, why not wait? The answer to that lies in the fine print. Fannie Mae, which drives a lot of bank lending policy, has quietly been raising the standards on loans. FICO credit scores to qualify for the best rates are rising, and higher rates are imposed when there is a higher loan-to-value ratio being sought. Translation: The rate might be slightly lower for some amount of time, but it will be harder for most people without excellent credit and enough cash for a substantial downpayment to qualify for that rate. When you take those factors into account, you will almost certainly come down on the side of buying or refinancing as soon as possible.

I should point out, in the nature of a disclaimer, that I do not have Obama's private Blackberry address, so these thoughts are my own, based upon reading public materials! And, given all that's going on, I'm sure there will be more news to follow.