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Baltimore offers affordable alternative to D.C. real estate

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During the past quarter, we have seen most favored interest rates rise from 3.5% to 4.5%. While these rates are still historically among the lowest in decades, that fact may not make you feel any better about the possibility of paying more for your first or next home.

This week’s rate is the highest we have seen in two-and-a-half years. Loan officers are projecting further increases in rates as the Federal Reserve (the “Fed”) attempts to control inflation. Basic economics tells us that more expensive credit slows spending, which, in turn, lowers prices. It can be a fine line to walk between inflation, control, and recession.

People who are seeking a conventional loan of $647,200 or less with a 20% down payment will likely receive the best 30-year fixed rate if they hold a salaried job and have a credit score of more than 740.

Using an example of a typical $750,000 D.C. rowhouse with a $150,000 down payment, the difference between the principal and interest payment at 3.5% and 4.5% is $346 a month without taking tax-deductible mortgage interest into consideration.

Often, there is a rate premium paid for the purchase of a condominium or cooperative apartment, for being self-employed, for less than stellar credit, and for lower down payments or larger loans.

So, what can you do to minimize the effects of an increase in interest rates?

First, make sure your credit is squeaky clean. Consult a loan officer to get a copy of your tri-merged credit report (Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union) to avoid any surprises. Do not start paying off debt or closing credit cards without your loan officer’s input. There is such a thing as good debt where credit is concerned.

Shop around for your mortgage and consider alternative mortgage programs. For example, as rates rise, adjustable mortgages with payments fixed for 5, 7, or 10 years can be more affordable. A 30-year fixed rate, often thought to be the safest bet, may not be as desirable if you will not be keeping the home for 30 years.

Search for any special benefits for which you may qualify. D.C., Maryland, and Virginia all have programs geared toward people with low to moderate incomes or who have as little as 3% for a down payment. The funds for these programs may have been secured when rates were lower, with savings passed along to the consumer.

This should be the time to look for sellers who have assumable FHA mortgages obtained when rates were lower. In addition to lower rates, the cost of assuming such a mortgage will be less than originating a new one, so you might save money in closing costs as well. VA loans can also be assumed by active-duty military or veterans, or by others under certain circumstances.

Have the lender you choose provide you with an estimate of what your mortgage payment may be at different rates. Even if you can afford the payment, it is best not to be surprised as you go through the process. When you find a rate that gives you a comfortable monthly payment, lock it in so your rate will not go up if or when the Fed makes another adjustment.

Consider whether to pay points to lower your interest rate. One point is equal to one percent of the loan amount, but you can “buy down” the rate in increments of as little as 1/8 of a percent. When interest rates were higher than 10%, it was quite common for sellers to pay points to help a buyer afford his loan. While I do not anticipate this happening here anytime soon, the “buy down” procedure still exists.

Find an infusion of cash to lower your loan amount. The National Bank of Mom and Dad is a common place to obtain a gift of funds. In 2022, each parent can give a gift of $16,000 to a child or grandchild without tax consequences to the giver or the recipient. Consult your tax adviser for more information.

If you have a 401k retirement plan with your employer or a federal government Thrift Savings Plan, you can borrow from it without incurring penalties and pay yourself back with interest. Most lenders will not count this against your debt load.

Lastly, you may need to adjust your expectations regarding size and location of your prospective home, since any increase in rates will affect everything from entry-level condos to luxury properties. Still, with the Fed anticipating raising rates in small increments through 2023, this may still be the optimum time to buy.

Valerie M. Blake is a licensed Associate Broker in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia with RLAH Real Estate. Call or text her at 202-246-8602, email her via DCHomeQuest.com, or follow her on Facebook at TheRealst8ofAffairs.



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