County a hotbed of mortgage activity |

County a hotbed of mortgage activity

BIZ buy v. rent KA 7-9-11

EAGLE COUNTY – Some people in the county aren’t underwater on their mortgages, but a lot of those people are refinancing their homes this year.

Local mortgage brokers say they’re as busy this summer as they were in the midst of the last decade’s housing boom, writing loans for both buyers and refinancers. The main reason: rates are lower than anyone can remember.

A lot of people refinanced when rates dropped into the 5 percent range, thinking money wouldn’t get much cheaper. Today, despite a still-complex lending environment, rates less than 4 percent are common on 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages, and 15-year loans are charging less than 3 percent for the best borrowers.

Shaving a couple of percentage points off a mortgage can translate to some big savings. And that could be good for everyone.

“If you have 1,000 people saving $250 a month, there’s $250,000 a month more going into the local economy,” local mortgage broker Chris Neuswanger said.

Like all the brokers contacted for this story, Neuswanger said he’s as busy this year as he was during the peak boom years.

But beyond rates, there are fewer people in the mortgage business today than in 2007. Back then, just about anyone with a pulse could qualify for a mortgage, and just about anyone who could fog a mirror could set up shop as a broker.

A combination of the housing crash and new regulations on brokers have combined to slash the number of people in the mortgage business today.

Neuswanger guessed that employment in the business has dropped as much as 80 percent over the past few years. That’s left fewer people writing loans. Combine the contraction of the business with the difficulty of getting a loan through the approval process, and a lot of the brokers left are working seven days a week.

“Loans are a lot harder today – files have gone from 100 pages to 200 or 300 pages now,” broker Steven Sheppard of Eagle River Mortgage said.

It’s also taking longer to get loans approved. Jeff Koch of Colorado Resort Lending said some banks are taking between 60 and 90 days to approve loans. Koch said his office is getting refinance deals done in 45 days or so, and purchases done in about 30.

And purchases make up a good portion of the business for mortgage brokers. Sarah Jardis of Central Rockies Mortgage said the split at her office is about 40 percent purchase loans, with the rest being refinance deals. And, while most of the refinance deals Jardis’ office completes are for people who aren’t underwater on their homes, many have been done for people participating in the federal Home Affordability Refinance Program.

For those buying homes, Jardis said she’s seen a couple of types of buyers coming back to the market – second-home buyers and people buying investment property. Both of those buyers have been waiting for prices to come down, Jardis said.

And many of those who are buying are fulfilling a dream that’s just about as old as Vail.

“This remains a sought-after place to live,” said Michelle Hayes of Hayes Mortgage Group. “Now (with lower prices), it’s become realistic.”