Thursday, April 14, 2011

Curbing Closing Costs

Excerpt from Curbing Closing Costs
By Lynnley Browning, The New York Times Real Estate

Borrowers have some weapons for keeping closing costs down, the result of recent guidelines requiring lenders to disclose certain fees, but perhaps the most underutilized consumer tool simply involves old-fashioned haggling.

Good-faith estimate rules, part of a tougher Truth in Lending Act that emerged from the mortgage crisis, mean that lenders must provide a clear picture of the costs involved in buying or refinancing a home. Yet consumers may not realize that some of those numbers are actually negotiable, mortgage experts say.

“There’s a lot of room for negotiation in the costs of closing,” said Barry Zigas, the director of housing policy at the Consumer Federation of America, a consumer advocacy group, “and consumers should examine every charge and not hesitate to challenge them and try to bring them down.”

The standard good-faith-estimate form used by lenders makes it easier to compare the terms offered by lenders, and it lists the services a borrower can shop around for, versus those selected by the lender.

John T. Mechem, the vice president for public affairs of the Mortgage Bankers Association, said borrowers should “simply ask the lender which fees are negotiable and which are fixed.”

Mr. Zigas agreed. “Ask, ‘Who is getting paid this fee, and why am I being asked to pay it?’ ” he said.

The good-faith-estimate rules say that certain charges cannot increase at closing, including those for loan origination and points paid to the lender to reduce a locked interest rate, with 1 point equal to 1 percent of the loan amount. But borrowers can negotiate those charges.

Borrowers should understand that “it’s not a time to be polite,” said Kathleen Day, a spokeswoman for the Center for Responsible Lending, an advocacy group. “You have to have a strong stomach and a stiff spine and not bow to pressure from the other side of the table to close the deal,” she said, even in this tight credit environment.

For a refinancing of your primary residence, you can generally cancel your mortgage application for up to three days after closing, with fees refunded.

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