Yes, I know what you’re probably saying already. Where has this guy been? Living under a rock somewhere? Hasn’t he heard the nightmare stories about sub-prime mortgages, option ARMS and “liar loans” and how all of these ultra-risky vehicles got us into the mess we’re in right now? Indeed, the media has placed much of the blame for the collapse of home prices and the ongoing foreclosure crisis on the loose credit and lax credit standards for the proliferation of these exotic mortgage products that now make up much of the toxic debt on banks’ balance sheets. Yet, somehow, the plain old adjustable rate mortgage that has been around for decades has been painted with the same brush as the other mortgage products and unfairly so. Let me explain why ARMs are still around, always will be around, and why they may be the best friends we have right now.
The complete evaporation of a secondary mortgage market for condominiums and their twin the condo-tels, has forced banks to develop new vehicles for financing these properties. This is where the in-house loans, or portfolio loans as we call them, come in to play. These loans accept the risk associated with condos as collateral in a market that has seen condo prices plunge in recent years and ignore other factors that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, along with all the mortgage insurance companies, deem derogatory. But banks can’t loan money on these properties forever when they have no market to sell the loans. Eventually, they would have no money left to lend and would simply have a fat portfolio of nothing but condo loans and no capital. Corus Bank, the owner of Laketowne Wharf, is a great example of this scenario. That is why banks, like the bank I work for, turn to ARMs – they provide interest rate protection to the bank while offering the consumer a quantifiable risk scenario where they can weigh the pros and cons and make an informed decision.
I have been a little perplexed lately when potential borrowers call to inquire about financing for a fantastic deal they are getting on a condo. When I explain I have two options, a 3/1 ARM at 6.00% or a 5/1 ARM at 6.75% there is often an immediate rejection of anything that isn’t a fixed rate and an inferred suspicion that I am some sort of snake oil salesman. Never mind there are no other options out there. What about the fact these ARMs have initial fixed periods at very attractive rates? What about the fact that there are no pre-payment penalties, (we want them to pay it off) very low fees, and annual and lifetime rate caps of 2% and 6% respectively? Do they even give me the opportunity to explain that the ARMs are tied to the 1 year Treasury yield which is one of the most stable indexes to be found having averaged 4.38% over the past twenty years? Do I have a glimmer of hope that they will listen to me explain how ARMs work and that if these ARMs were to adjust today they would actually go down? Nope. If it’s an ARM it’s snake oil and will lead them to financial ruin. Yet for those who don’t associate every ARM loan with housing horror stories and who weigh the pros and cons are using my ARM loans to scoop us fabulous deals on beachfront condominiums and stand to make substantial returns on their measured risk proposition. Did I say risk? Of course there is risk with an ARM. Rates could sky rocket in a worst-case scenario but given that the U.S. will probably keep short-term rates low for a very long time, the risk is acceptable.
No one wants you to take an ARM more than the bank someone once told me. Over the years I have found this to be more or less true from a banker’s perspective. So why have I, personally, taken out several ARM loans over the years? It is because that while an ARM provides some safety for the banks, it also provides opportunities to borrowers. Lower rates equate to qualifying for more loan. If I anticipate a rise in property values or an increase in my income, why not look at an ARM? But most significantly, when it is the only mortgage option available and there perhaps once in a lifetime opportunities on beach-front real estate, do ARMs not beg some consideration? ARMs are like bridges, they get us over an obstacle though we may not know what we’ll find on the other side. One borrower said to me recently when we were discussing the end of that bridge on a 5/1 ARM he was applying for, he poignantly stated, “If things aren’t better than this in five years then God help us all.” This lead me to reflect that the bank portfolio ARMs may not be a panacea but they do offer buyers, Realtors and bankers alike, a bridge to better times ahead.
For this and more, visit my blog at www.activerain.com/blogs/hpalmer
With over fifteen years of mortgage and real estate experience, Hunter Palmer has the knowledge and expertise to help home buyers and Realtors navigate the ever changing real estate finance landscape.