Homeowners who have resisted the urge to refinance their mortgages until now could be rewarded for their willpower. Mortgage rates have fallen to new lows—and banks are rolling out incentives to win business.
Economic uncertainty in Europe and slow growth in the U.S. are prompting investors to pile into ultrasafe U.S. Treasurys. That, in turn, is pushing down mortgage rates, which are tied to Treasurys.
The average interest rate on a 30-year mortgage fell to 4.05% for the week ended Dec. 23, the lowest in 60 years, according to HSH Associates, a mortgage-data firm. And rates on jumbo mortgages—private loans that in most parts of the country are larger than $417,000—also have hit new lows, averaging 4.61%.
“It’s hard to argue rates will get much lower than they are today,” says Stuart Gabriel, director of the Ziman Center for Real Estate at the University of California, Los Angeles.
That’s good news for homeowners. A person who refinanced a $400,000 30-year mortgage in February would pay an interest rate of 5.04% on average, according to HSH Associates, and fork over $2,157 a month; at the current rate of 4.05%, he’d save $236 per month, or $2,830 per year.
What’s more, demand for refinancing is declining, since many homeowners already took advantage of lower mortgage rates. Applications for refinancing are 17% below this year’s peak in September, according to the latest data from the Mortgage Bankers Association.
That and other factors have prompted some lenders to offer incentives to win new business—particularly regional and community banks, which are focusing more on jumbo mortgages, says Stu Feldstein, president at SMR Research, which tracks the mortgage market.
The discounts can be sizable. Regional bank Valley National Bank charges homeowners in New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania a flat fee of $499 for closing costs on mortgages as large as $1 million. Since average closing costs on a refinance run about 2% of the total loan amount, a person with an $800,000 mortgage could save about $15,500.
A spokesman for the bank says it is aggressively marketing the discount in part to bring in more customers.
While many lenders don’t refinance mortgages that are larger than about $2 million, Union Bank—which has branches in California, Oregon and Washington—refinances up to $4 million at no extra cost. (Many banks that refinance multimillion-dollar mortgages tack up to an extra quarter of a percentage point on the interest rate.)
Since November, Union Bank has also allowed borrowers to roll the costs of a refinance, like the appraisal fee and loan processing fee, into the mortgage. And borrowers whose original mortgage is from Union Bank don’t have to provide all of the income documentation that other customers do in order to refinance.
In part, the bank’s goal is to develop relationships with high-net-worth clients, says Stuart Bernstein, national production manager of residential lending at Union Bank.
Despite the incentives, many would-be applicants remain sidelined because they can’t meet the long list of qualifications.