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How to get the right home loan
By Sarah Mills, Ninemsn Money
When you take out a loan, you are basically buying money. Money is a very simple commodity, which means you should be able to compare the price of loans (money) at a glance, in the same way you might compare a litre of fuel. In reality, this rarely happens.
Lenders understand that it is not in their interest (excuse the pun) to embark on a rate war with each other for market share and have instead opted to attach any number of bells and whistles to loans that ultimately obscure the true cost to the borrower. Some of these bells and whistles, such as redraw facilities, can be very convenient, even desirable. What the borrower needs to know, however, is how much they are paying for that convenience. The financial industry has largely resisted efforts to publish the "real" interest rate on a loan and the average borrower today is pretty much confounded by the thousands of home loans on the market offered by hundreds of lenders. Not even a rocket scientist could easily calculate the best home loan in the market today without a fairly sophisticated software package or strong industry knowledge.
This obfuscation, along with reduction in branch networks and strong competition for home loans, has in part been responsible for the mushrooming of the mortgage broker industry. Virtually non-existent 15 years ago, mortgage brokers now write at least 30 percent of all loans in Australia. In theory, the mortgage broker's job is to be familiar with all the loans on the market so that when you enlist their services, they can find a loan that matches your circumstances and offer the best deal for you. They can save you time and money, help explain loan documents, costs and disbursements and even negotiate with the lender on your behalf. Not all mortgage brokers, however, are working for you. Mortgage brokers make their money by receiving commissions from the lenders, which can affect their impartiality. Some have relationships with only a few lenders, which means you don't have access to all loans on the market. Others may only offer the products of one bank. Others may simply suggest to you the loan that pays them the highest commission, not the one that gives you the best deal.
Alas, the borrower is now like the old woman who swallowed the fly and then has to swallow a spider to catch the fly: it may have been difficult calculating the cheapest interest rate, but it can be even more difficult calculating the independence or honesty of a broker.
Tips for getting the best deal from mortgage brokers
- Sign a contract up front with the mortgage broker that fully outlines both parties' expectations and obligations.
- If you have a verbal agreement with a broker, get it in writing.
- Ask the mortgage broker how much the service will cost you and when you have to pay.
- Make sure your contract with the broker stipulates that they only get paid if they get a loan that suits all your requirements, not just any loan from one of their affiliated lenders. This gives you considerable recourse.
- Don't pay an upfront free. Do not pay any fee until the lender has approved the loan, otherwise you may not retrieve your money.
- Ask if the broker belongs to an industry association such as the MIIA and if that association has a dispute resolution policy. Ask to see it in writing. Disgruntled borrowers can also contact the Mortgage Industry Ombudsman on 1800 138 422.
- Discuss their methodology upfront. How do they identify the best solution? Is it simply commission-based or do they use a software package? Their criteria for selection should be logical and transparent.
- How many loans do they evaluate through that package and how many lenders (and which lenders) do they represent? Remember, the more the merrier for you.
- Shop around. Call a range of finance brokers and ask about their charges and their offerings. Ask friends for recommendations.
- Do not sign anything without reading it carefully and take the contract home to read it. Do not be pressured into signing before you are ready.
- If you do not understand something in the contract, get independent advice.
- Ensure your broker is not just a lender in disguise, offering only one company's loans. Ask them upfront and include that in the contract if need be.
- Ask how the broker gets paid. Ask them to disclose all commissions, payments and kickbacks they receive so that you can better discern the independence of their judgment
- Ask them to provide a formal comparison of any loans recommended, including upfront and ongoing fees, and the average annual percentage rates on the agreed loan size and term.
- Ask them to clarify the actual cost of the loan, including and excluding interest, fees and ongoing costs.
- Double check. You can cross check your broker's final recommendation by accessing the online calculators on websites such as Infochoice or Cannex to see for yourself how it shapes up.
- Ask if they comply with the Privacy Act. You want to protect your financial and personal details.
- Ask if they have professional indemnity insurance.
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