Hundreds of pieces of mail come to the typical newspaper's Real Estate section every week. A few provide good tips that turn into big stories, while others are "puff pieces" that the sender hopes will generate publicity for himself, his company or a client.
Then there's mail that falls in between: letters or news releases that provide interesting bits of information, but not enough to merit a long story.
Here are several such items that recently crossed our desk. They can serve to start 1991 with a few things to think about, or at least provide a bit of mortgage trivia:
* If you're a homeowner who has an adjustable-rate mortgage, there's a 1-in-3 chance that your interest rate has been miscalculated. So says John Geddes, who studied the loan portfolios of failed savings and loan associations as a banking auditor for the Federal Savings & Loan Insurance Corp.
Geddes estimates that American homeowners were overcharged $8 billion between 1979 and 1989 by lenders who miscalculated ARM payments.
Congress, however, hasn't ordered any additional studies to confirm those estimates--nor has it initiated action to correct possible problems.
* According to the latest survey by the Mortgage Bankers Assn. of America, 5% of all homeowners--about 2.3 million borrowers--are at least 30 days behind on their mortgage payments. About 300,000 homeowners are perilously close to foreclosure because they're more than 90 days late.
* The average rate for 30-year, fixed-rate conventional loans now stands at 9 1/2%, according to the Federal National Mortgage Assn. That's unchanged from a year ago, but down from 13% a decade ago.
The American home ownership rate now stands at 63.9%, down from its 1980 peak of 65.6%. That might not seem like much of a reduction, but it means that nearly 2 million fewer families own houses today than would have had the 1980 rate been sustained.
* All told, the U.S. Census Bureau says that about 60 million people now own their own home.
* According to a Harvard University study, American homeowners have more than $4 trillion in equity. If you took 4 trillion dollar bills and laid them end-to-end, the line would circle the globe 47,785 times, according to the UCLA Department of Mathematics.
* Homeowners have borrowed about $100 billion through various types of home-equity loans and home-equity credit lines, says the Mortgage Bankers Assn. That's enough dollar bills to go around the world 1,195 times, says UCLA.
* Last word from the Census Bureau: The only part of the country in which the home ownership rate increased over the past decade was the Northeast, where it rose 1%. Home ownership dropped 3% in the South, 2.2% in the West and 2.1% in the Midwest.
* Not many people noticed, but President Bush has signed a bill that will continue to allow the Federal Housing Administration to insure mortgages of up to $124,875 through the end of this year. Without the extension, the FHA would have reverted to the old $101,250 limit on Jan. 1.
* "Low-documentation" loans, available to home buyers who make a minimum 25% down payment, may be an endangered species. The Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. has said that it will no longer buy the loans, which are popular with borrowers who can't get a conventional mortgage because they've lied about their income on tax returns.
* More on Freddie Mac: The agency seems to be a bit bearish on the future of the nation's housing market. In announcing its decision to stop buying "low-doc" loans, it said it's concerned that slowing housing appreciation will increase the likelihood that borrowers will default, thus exposing the agency to losses.
* Attorneys general from six states have filed a lawsuit in federal court, accusing GMAC Mortgage Corp.--the nation's fourth-largest loan-servicing company--of overcharging borrowers on their impound accounts. The officials said many other loan servicers and lenders are guilty of the same practice. (We wrote about these concerns when the lawsuit was pending last fall.)
If you think you're being overcharged, this might be an ideal time to confront your lender or loan-service company. With one suit already filed and others possibly to come, lenders might be more sympathetic than ever to consumer complaints.
* Under the tax codes, you can deduct interest on up to $1 million in debt used to buy or build a house. If you bought a home, made a 20% down payment and borrowed $1 million at the going rate of about 10 1/4%, your monthly payments for principal and interest would be $8,961.
AVERAGE RATES FOR RESIDENTIAL MORTGAGES
Average rates for residential mortgages as of Dec. 28, 1990.
Survey Conventional Mortgages Adjustable Mortgages Area 15 Year 30 Year Composite 1 Year Composite National 9.45% 9.76% 9.62% 7.81% 8.09% California 9.73 10.02 9.88 8.22 8.16 Connecticut 9.41 9.77 9.64 7.90 8.12 Wash. D.C. 9.33 9.67 9.52 7.43 7.79 Florida 9.42 9.83 9.64 7.70 8.05 Mass. 9.44 9.79 9.64 7.83 8.13 New Jersey 9.48 9.76 9.65 7.80 8.26 N.Y. Metro 9.54 9.83 9.71 7.87 8.20 New York 9.63 9.93 9.79 7.91 8.18 N.Y. Co-ops 9.89 10.13 10.05 8.32 8.69 Pa. 9.19 9.51 9.36 7.48 7.57 Texas 9.15 9.47 9.32 7.63 7.78
SOURCE: HSH Associates, Butler, N.J.