Jumbo mortgage loan rates put damper on refinancing
While plunging mortgage rates have spawned a frenzy of refinancing, borrowers with larger, so-called jumbo loans are still seeing interest rates in the 7 percent range, prompting many to abandon refinancing plans altogether or resort to creative transactions.
The high rates are particularly an issue in Greater Boston, where expensive housing forces many people into jumbo-loan territory, which is currently $465,750 and above. In 2006, more than 10 percent of borrowers in Massachusetts took out jumbo mortgages.
Borrowers with conventional mortgages - those at or below $417,000 - are getting rates as low as 5 percent, while the national average for a jumbo loan hovers around 7 percent.
There is a new, third category of mortgages between jumbo and conventional loans, created last year by Congress, called conforming jumbos, which now average about 5.6 percent, according to a provider of industry data, HSH Associates.
"I think it is crazy you can't get as good a rate," said Julia Blake, 36, who with her husband is looking to refinance the Cape they bought in Wellesley for $695,000 in 2007. "To me, a jumbo loan should be a luxury house, and in Wellesley it is not. You can't get anything less than $600,000."
Another Wellesley resident, Paul Barnhill, wants to refinance his adjustable-rate jumbo loan into a fixed-rate loan, but not at current rates.
"I would refinance in a heartbeat if I could get 5 percent," said Barnhill, 44.
Jumbo mortgage rates are higher because lenders who initiate the loans are having trouble selling them on the secondary market, where the resale of mortgages provides funds for new loans. The banks and investment groups that buy mortgages are reeling from the credit crisis and the subprime mortgage debacle, and are steering clear of any loans that smack of higher risk. The major players on the secondary market, government-sponsored Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, do not purchase jumbo loans.
Industry groups are calling on the federal government to intervene. For example, the Federal Reserve Bank is purchasing huge amounts of mortgages and related securities, which industry officials said would result in even lower rates for conventional loans. The National Association of Realtors wants the Fed to do the same with jumbo loans.
"It's unfortunate that the jumbo interest rates are very high and the government is not being responsive to that," said Lawrence Yun, the trade group's chief economist. "It is not only hurting the Main Street, but it's a fairness issue. Why are people who are slightly over the loan limit being punished?"Last year, Congress raised jumbo limits when it allowed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to buy or guarantee higher-balance loans. In Massachusetts, the limit increased to $523,750, from $417,000, with jumbo loans being above the higher amount, and conforming jumbos between the two figures.
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