By: By Dian Hymer
As of Jan. 1, 2010, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) required lenders to provide mortgage borrowers with a new three-page Good Faith Estimate (GFE) to protect consumers who are applying for a mortgage.
The intent of the GFE is to educate consumers about the key terms and costs of a mortgage, both at origination and ongoing. A loan originator completes the form, giving the borrower a summary of the loan particulars and information necessary to shop rates and to be sure they're comparing like-type mortgages.
Although there's grumbling, mostly from mortgage brokers, lenders and closing/escrow agents, the format and information included in the new GFE is a step in the right direction. There are, however, some quirks.
For example, the GFE doesn't provide a complete and accurate account of the borrower's costs. Page two provides an itemization of loan origination and settlement costs. The origination charge is itemized as one lump sum; it's not broken down.
So, you don't know how much you're paying the appraiser for the appraisal, the loan originator for the origination fee, or other miscellaneous fees.
Another shortcoming is in the way transfer taxes are disclosed. The entire amount of any transfer taxes is entered on the GFE, even if the sellers pay part or all of it. This could inflate the buyer's estimated settlement costs.
To get around having to generate a GFE for buyers before they have committed to a given loan originator, some mortgage originators have developed worksheet quotes for buyers to use if they want to shop rates. HUD is adamant that these worksheets can't be used instead of a GFE. Furthermore, they provide the borrower no protection.
HOUSE HUNTING TIP: The new federally mandated GFE provides protection for borrowers against being charged extra fees at closing that weren't disclosed on the GFE. An informal worksheet provides no such protection.
Origination and settlement fees are grouped into three different categories. The first category is fees that can't increase between the time the GFE is issued and closing. Included in this category are the lender or mortgage broker's origination fee, transfer taxes and adjustments to loan origination charges after the borrower locks in an interest rate.
Loan originators who miscalculate, causing fees to run higher at closing, have to make up the difference out of pocket. To cover themselves, some loan originators pad the Category one figure.
The second category of fees can increase up to 10 percent at closing and includes such things as government recording charges and title insurance -- if the title insurer is identified by the lender, not by the borrower. This is done to encourage lenders to shop for the most cost-effective coverage for the consumer.
The third category of fees can change at settlement and includes homeowners insurance and title insurance coverage if the borrower, not the lender, identifies the title insurer.
The new GFE also includes a tradeoff table that shows what the interest rate would be if you paid a higher origination fee vs. a lower origination fee: the higher the fee, the lower the rate; the lower the fee, the higher the rate.
Finally, there's a loan-shopping chart to use the mortgage information provided by one lender to compare with other lenders. There is no obligation to use a loan originator who completes a GFE for you. A loan originator can't refuse to provide a GFE to a prospective borrower who asks for one.
As soon as a prospective borrower provides essential application information, such as Social Security number, property address, etc., the originator is to provide a GFE.
THE CLOSING: Lenders are required to provide a GFE within three days of receiving the borrower's application.
Dian Hymer, a real estate broker with more than 30 years' experience, is a nationally syndicated real estate columnist and author.