Navigating the Mortgage Minefield: Your Complete Guide to Avoiding Costly Problems and Finding the Right Loan in Today's Market


The mortgage market is in a state of crisis, and the recent takeovers of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae have made it even more daunting. Now, more than ever, borrowers need to take responsibility for their financing choices. As an expert in the mortgage industry, Richard Giannamore has helped thousands of people avoid the traps that can cost them a fortune. Now, in Navigating the Mortgage Minefield he shows anyone considering the purchase or refinancing of a home how to take control of the loan process, not fall ...

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Navigating the Mortgage Minefield: Your Complete Guide to Avoiding Costly Problems and Finding the Right Loan in Today's Market

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The mortgage market is in a state of crisis, and the recent takeovers of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae have made it even more daunting. Now, more than ever, borrowers need to take responsibility for their financing choices. As an expert in the mortgage industry, Richard Giannamore has helped thousands of people avoid the traps that can cost them a fortune. Now, in Navigating the Mortgage Minefield he shows anyone considering the purchase or refinancing of a home how to take control of the loan process, not fall victim to it. The book provides borrowers with invaluable tools like:

• self-assessments that will help them choose the best loan features and providers for their needs

• clear explanations of “fine print” obligations in the mortgage note and the consequences of not meeting them

• a list of borrowers’ rights

• warning signs to detect and avoid loan originators who place their own interests first

• remedies for homeowners who find themselves in trouble

Complete with a detailed worksheet allowing readers to determine how much house they can really afford, rather than how much they can qualify for, this book will help homebuyers and homeowners make smart choices and avoid disaster.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814413692
  • Publisher: AMACOM Books
  • Publication date: 4/22/2009
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Giannamore (Boston, MA) is president and CEO of Mortgage Services, Inc. and has more than 25 years of experience in the business. He is also CEO of Financial Program Strategies.

Barbara Bordow Osach (Boston, MA) is a consultant to Mortgage Services, Inc. Together, they are the authors of The High-Income Mortgage Originator.

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Read an Excerpt





Say ‘‘the American Dream’’ and you are likely to envision owning

a home as part of that dream. Yet for millions of families who

have faced foreclosure home ownership has become a nightmare. In

2008, a presidential election year, the United States Congress passed

historic legislation to stimulate and stabilize financial markets that

were reeling after the collapse of the subprime mortgage market. In

July it approved bills that created a $300 billion fund to rescue the

U.S. housing market, bail out home owners at risk of foreclosure,

shore up institutions that hold almost half the country’s $12 trillion

mortgage debt, and impose stricter regulations on the industry. Only

three months later, in October, Congress took control of those institutions,

and added over $700 billion in funds to absorb the risk of

foreclosures, defaults, and bank failures, hoping to stabilize the markets

and restore the flow of credit. The message to borrowers: It’s

dangerous out there!

I have always believed that when people are informed and empower

themselves to be responsible for the decisions they make, they

rise to the task of knowing what is best for them, and in most cases,

they act on it. I’ve written Navigating the Mortgage Minefield to provide

the information and straight talk that allows people to empower

themselves in this way.

Whether you are thinking of buying a home or refinancing your

current home, or if you are searching for a way to avoid foreclosure,

you are wise to approach a mortgage mindful of dangers you can

avoid if you are informed, alert, and responsible. When you know

where you are going, have a road map to guide you, and are in the

driver’s seat, you can navigate the mortgage minefield and arrive

safely at your financial destination.

If you are obtaining a mortgage for the first time, this book takes

the mystery out of the mortgage process and provides tools for you to

evaluate whether you are truly ‘‘ready, willing, and able’’ to assume

the financial responsibilities of home ownership, of which a mortgage

is only one part. If you are a veteran of the mortgage process,

then the book will help you to brush up on the fine points of the

process and establish the mind-set to clearly define and satisfy your

present needs effectively and painlessly.

I believe in the power of the free enterprise system to regulate

markets, including the mortgage markets. Consumers dictate standards

of quality, marketing practices, and product acceptance when

they ‘‘vote’’ with their dollars. This book provides the information you

need to make informed decisions about the products you buy and the

companies from which you buy them. You will engage in the mortgage

process fully aware of and responsible for knowing what your

obligations are and may become, and what you must do to remain

in a position to fulfill your mortgage obligation and other financial


Educated borrowers and healthy competition between mortgage

providers will go further to protect borrowers and markets in the long

term than government bailouts, incentives, or regulations. When

enough people are informed and responsible, only those organizations

and products that responsibly serve the needs of the public will

survive in our free enterprise system. You don’t have to depend on

the government to protect or save you. You can take care of yourself !

You have the power!

Not long ago, home owners were regularly bombarded with direct

mail, telephone solicitations, and media advertising for mortgages

that sounded too good to be true. Zero percent introductory interest

rates, 100 percent financing, and promises of ‘‘no income verification’’

lured uninformed borrowers into mortgages that were, in the

long run, not the bargains they were touted to be.

Borrowers who thought they could skate through to reasonable

refinancing when the ‘‘honeymoon’’ was over on these loans now face

monthly mortgage payments they cannot afford. Making matters

worse, they have few, if any, options for refinancing, or for selling

their homes, which are now worth less than they owe on their mortgages.

There is no denying it; the situation is a mess, and for the individuals

and families who are struggling, it is deeply upsetting. But is

the solution really more government regulation and multibillion--dollar

bailouts? Who pays? We all do.

There is nothing inherently wrong, unethical, or deceptive about

mortgage products, such as those mentioned earlier, that facilitate

home ownership or provide borrowers payment flexibility. These

products and others, such as hybrids, home equity lines of credit, and

flexible option ARMs, address specific and legitimate market needs.

The problem arises not from the product but from the sale of the

product to, or use of the product by, someone for whom it is inappropriate

and for whom it may cause financial harm. Many people face

foreclosure because they were not conscious of or responsible for the

risk of conditions that could harm them, and because they were wishful

about their current and future financial status, rather than objective

and realistic. Many others simply are hard hit by the economic

downturn and trying to keep their homes and meet their obligations.

In writing Navigating the Mortgage Minefield, I set out to walk prospective

borrowers through the thought processes they need to apply

information about mortgages to their own financial situation in a

manner that develops a responsible appreciation for their capacity to

afford a home and honor the terms of a mortgage without hardship

and sacrifice.

I’ve arranged the book to deliver the information that you need to

know about mortgages and about yourself as you advance through

the mortgage process. The first chapter introduces mortgage products

and the mortgage market, and outlines eight important things for you

to keep in mind as you navigate the mortgage minefield. Chapter 2

distinguishes between the mortgage for which you may qualify and

the mortgage you can afford. It describes all the costs of home ownership,

and gives you an unemotional and factual look at your current

finances and money habits so you can determine the monthly mortgage

payment you can afford.

Chapter 3 discusses situations in which you should consider refinancing,

and a method to evaluate whether it makes sense to do it or

do nothing. It also provides useful tools to avoid confusion when you

compare different offers so you can remain focused on your personal

needs and goals.

Chapter 4 helps you to understand what contributes to the value

of your current or prospective home and assists you in navigating

through some potential hazards related to your property, such as easements

and zoning restrictions. It describes circumstances and events

that can directly or indirectly affect the value of your home, and ex-

plains what you can do to maintain the value of your home and your

investment in it.

When you know what you can afford for a mortgage payment,

have a budget that includes the multitude of nonmortgage expenses

associated with home ownership, and are aware of what to look for in

a home to protect your investment in it, you have what you need to

enter the mortgage market and take control of your financial future.

Chapter 5 guides you in seeing your financial creditworthiness as

lenders see it, and provides you with ways to improve your credit

score and other ratios that lenders use to determine whether to lend

money to you, and if so, at what cost. Chapter 6 explains basic mortgage

products, various features and options available and how you

can package them together to create the right loan for you. Chapter 7

helps you to define your financial limits and the objectives you want

your mortgage to achieve. It alerts you to mortgage advertising that

could lead you astray, and gives you the tools you need to compare

offerings to your ‘‘shopping list’’ of mortgage features, rather than

trying to compare offers to one another.

Chapter 8 puts you powerfully in charge to find a mortgage professional

with whom to do business. The specific questions you ask the

mortgage provider about their proposed products and the way they do

business allow you to have confidence in the information and advice

they give you. The chapter also alerts you to more than ten additional

mortgage and financial services of which you can take advantage at

little or no cost. Chapter 9 prepares you for the mortgage application

process, discussing what questions you will be asked, and why. It

explains fees, costs, and the myriad of documents you will sign before

you submit your application to a lender for approval. Chapter 10 offers

you information about the kinds of insurance you may have to

obtain in order for a lender to approve your mortgage. In Chapter 11

you’ll receive guidance in reviewing the fine print of the mortgage

note and mortgage deed before the closing so you know that what

you are signing is what you expected.

We wrap up with the things that can change and actions you

should take, both with regard to your specific mortgage (Chapter 12)

and in the broader markets (Chapter 13). And finally, in Chapter 14,

we address what to do to avoid foreclosure if things go wrong. This

chapter alerts you to the pitfalls of negotiating a mortgage modification

with your lender, arms you with information about options your

lender may not want you to know about, and prepares you to fight to

save your home if you face financial distress.

The mortgage and housing markets will rebound, and over the

next several decades will slump and rebound again, as they have done

historically. The financial markets eventually will stabilize and credit

will once again become available for home buyers and home owners.

You have the power, and now the tools, to make owning and keeping

a home a reality. Regardless of changing market conditions, you’ll be

able to navigate your way responsibly, so that you can enjoy your

home, free from financial struggles. It is my privilege to serve as your


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Table of Contents


Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction: Educated Borrowers Are Our Best Protection

Against Bad Business Practices 1

Chapter 1: Take Charge of Your Mortgage Process 7

Balancing Risk and Reward in a Mortgage 8

Assessing the Lender’s Risk 10

Assessing Your Risks 13

The Elements of a Mortgage 15

Common Mortgage Definitions 15

Adjustable-Rate Mortgage Definitions 17

Payment Options 20

The Mortgage Process 21

Eight Things to Keep in Mind When Searching for a Mortgage 26

1. The Cost of Owning a Home Is More than the Cost of the

Mortgage, Taxes, and Insurance 26

2. Just Because You Qualify for a Loan Doesn’t Mean You Can

Afford It 27

3. Lenders Are in the Mortgage Business to Make a Profit 27

4. Things Change, and Sometimes You Have Control and

Sometimes You Don’t 28

5. The Best Mortgage Is Not Necessarily the One with the Lowest

Interest Rate and Points 28

6. Lenders Get Their Money from the Same Sources 29

7. You Are in Charge 30

8. No Is Not Forever 31

Chapter 2: Be Realistic About Being Able to Afford

a Home 33

Set a Realistic Budget and Stick to It 34

How a Lender Sees Your Finances 37

Take Advantage of Prequalification and Preapproval Services 39

Know the True Cost of Home Ownership 40

Down Payment 40

Costs Related to Financing 42

One-Time Costs 42

New Monthly Expenses 43

Maintenance 44

Chapter 3: Know How Much Your Property Is Worth 47

Distinguishing Between the Price of a Home and Its Market

Value 48

How Value Is Determined for Purposes of a Mortgage 49

What Happens If the Appraisal Is Too Low for the Loan Amount? 54

The Value of a Home Inspection 55

Inspections for Specific Conditions That Could Affect the Value of

Your Home 56

Self-Assessment for Refinancing 58

Factors That Can Affect Future Property Value 59

Economic Influences 59

Neighborhood Influences 60

Personal Influences 61

Chapter 4: Weigh Your Refinancing Opportunities 63

Why Refinance Your Home? 64

Refinance to Improve Your Cash Flow 65

Refinance to Fund Major Expenses 70

Refinance to Prepare for Life-Changing Events 74

Weighing Short-Term Savings by Refinancing Against Longand

Short-Term Costs 74

Adding Costs, Fees, and Points to the Equation 78

Chapter 5: Know Your Credit Score 81

Understanding Your Credit Report and Credit Score 82

Requesting Your Credit Report 84

What Determines Your Credit Score 86

How to Read Your Credit Report 88

Correcting Your Credit Report 90

How to Improve Your Credit Score 92

Chapter 6: Recognize Which Loan Product Is Right

for You 93

Fixed-Rate or Adjustable-Rate: Which Is Better for You? 94

How Long Will You Keep the Mortgage? 94

Are You Averse to Risk? 95

Payment Choices 96

Should You Pay Points? 96

Flexible Monthly Payment Options: Short- and Long-Term

Benefits and Risks 97

When Are I-Os and Option Payment Mortgages Good Choices? 100

Accelerated Payments 101

Balloon Payments and Two-Step Mortgages 102

Special Mortgages for Those Who Qualify 103

FHA Loans 103

Veteran’s Administration Loans 105

Special Features of Mortgages and What They Cost 106

Rate Locks 106

Jumbo Mortgages 107

Loans for New Construction 108

No Escrow Loans 109

Income, Asset, and Employment Documentation 109

Chapter 7: Know Your Boundaries 113

Defining What You Need 113

Assessing Your Current Financial Situation 119

Describing What You Want 121

Other Questions You Should Ask 124

Calculating the Annual Percentage Rate 124

Beware of Advertised APR 125

Compute Your Own Comparison 126

Chapter 8: Shop for a Provider You Can Trust 127

Who Sells Mortgages? 128

Retail Lenders 128

Brokers 129

Using the Internet to Find a Lender 131

Seller-Provided Direct Financing 132

Who Should You Trust? 133

Mortgage Advertising 134

Referrals 136

Licensing and Regulation 137

Your Rights and Protections 138

Services That Add Value to Your Mortgage Experience 140

Accelerator Programs 141

Rate Watch/ARM Alerts 142

Position Improvement Programs 143

New Product Alerts 143

Periodic Checkups 144

Regular Communication and Live Interaction 144

Chapter 9: Take Charge of the Loan Application

Process 145

The Uniform Residential Loan Application 146

Borrower Information 147

Employment Information 148

Income 149

Housing Expense 150

Assets 151

Declarations 152

The Next Steps in the Loan Application Process 153

Good Faith Estimate 154

What Happens Behind the Scenes 155

Chapter 10: Understand Your Insurance Obligations 159

Private Mortgage Insurance 160

Conditions Under Which PMI Can Be Cancelled 160

Another Form of Mortgage Insurance: FHA Loans 162

Hazard Insurance 163

Homeowner’s Insurance 163

Condos and Co-Ops 165

Flood and Earthquake Insurance 166

Title Insurance 167

Credit Life Insurance 168

Chapter 11: Read the Fine Print Before Closing 171

What Happens at the Closing 172

Reading and Understanding a HUD-1 Settlement Statement 173

The Elements of the Mortgage Note 175

Borrower’s Promise to Pay 176

Interest 176

Interest Rate and Monthly Payment Charges (ARMs Only) 176

Payments 178

Borrower’s Right to Prepay 178

Loan Charges 179

Borrower’s Failure to Pay as Required 179

Giving of Notices 180

Obligations of Persons Under This Note 180

Waivers 180

Uniform Secured Note 180

Signatures 181

The Purpose and Importance of the Mortgage Deed 181

What Happens If You Are in Default 182

Other Documents in the Closing Package 183

Truth in Lending Agreement 183

Monthly Payment Letter 184

Loan Closing Disclosure Acknowledgment 184

First Lien Letter 184

Hazard Insurance Authorization and Requirements 184

Hold Harmless Mortgage Survey 185

Tax Information Sheet 185

Flood Insurance Notification 185

Hazard Insurance Notification 186

RESPA Servicing Disclosure 186

Affidavit of Occupancy 187

Borrower’s Certification and Authorization 187

Privacy Notice 187

Chapter 12: Stay Abreast of Changes Regarding Your

Mortgage 189

Commonly Occurring Changes After Closing That Can Affect

You 190

Changes to Your Escrow Accounts 193

Real Estate Taxes 193

Insurance 195

Chapter 13: Watch Market Trends 201

What the Dow Jones Average Has to Do with Your Home 202

How Inflation Can Affect Your Mortgage Rate 204

Other Financial Indicators for You to Watch 205

Business Activity and Interest Rates 205

Prime Rate and Other Indices 206

Trends in Real Estate Values 206

The Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 and What

It Means to You 207

Federal Housing Finance Regulatory Reform Act of 2008 207

FHA HOPE for Homeowners Act of 2008 208

Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2008 209

The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 and How

It Affects You 210

Chapter 14: What Can Go Wrong, and How to Fix It 207

Relief During Temporary Disruptions 207

Natural Disaster Relief 208

Active Military Duty 208

What to Do If You Are Facing Financial Hardship 209

Go Back to the Basics of Budgeting 209

Loss Mitigation Options 210

If All Else Fails 215

Concluding Comments 217

Appendix A: Loan Comparison Worksheet 219

Index 223

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