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Mortgages are a good buy right now
Low rates driving buyers, homeowners to seek refinancing
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Some of the lowest mortgage rates in years are driving both prospective and current homeowners to seek financing for personal real estate.

"We're inundated right now with people wanting mortgages," said Richard L. "Dick" Valentine, chief executive officer of United Community Bank in Hall County. "Rates are at 5 percent or under."

But if you're thinking about a mortgage, lenders say good credit and sufficient equity or a good down payment are important.

Another potential hurdle is the value of a home.

"The biggest problem I'm having right now is getting appraised values," said Sabra Stevens, a mortgage loan officer at Peach State Bank & Trust. "There are so many foreclosures that can cause the value of other property to decrease."

Stevens said verification of income and detailed appraisals are required for mortgages.

Valentine said the detailed process is a part of returning the mortgage business to what was normal.
"It's what common sense should tell you that you've got to make enough money to pay your debts," he said. "There were companies that were doing non-income verification. You could just tell them you made $1 million and they believed you."

Stevens said a credit score of 720 was needed to get the best rates available.

Both bankers said there is a program for first-time homeowners through the Federal Housing Administration. That program requires a 5 percent down payment on a home purchase.

Buying a home without a down payment has become very difficult.

"What's also gone away are loans for more than the home's value and that's what got many people in trouble," he said.

For purchasers of more expensive homes the rates are higher. Valentine said so-called jumbo loans above $417,000 now have rates around 8 percent.

"That market will settle down sooner or later," he said. "Right now, for good customers, we're carrying those loans in the bank and when rates settle down, they can refinance it."

Valentine said a home still remains a good investment.

"Day in and day out, you should have appreciation in the value of your home. If you maintain it, take care of it and it's in a good location, you'll have some increased value."\

He said this area was fortunate not to have had the massive increases in prices, that was the case in places like Las Vegas and Phoenix.

"Out there, things were jumping 35 to 50 percent a year and that's insane," he said. "Around here, we had 5 to 10 percent increases in value. We didn't get so out of whack that a house lost half its value, like out West."