As Home Loan Rates Drop Below 3 Percent, Mortgage Brokers Go On A Hiring Binge

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Written by Dana Sanchez
mortgage brokers
A coronavirus-driven drop in U.S. interest rates adds urgency for mortgage brokers to hire more underwriters to keep up with a flood of refinancing and purchase applications. Photo by Ivan Bandura on Unsplash

U.S. interest rates have been on a roller coaster the past few years, hitting an all-time low this week. Average 30-year fixed-rate mortgages dropped to 3.29 percent after almost reaching 5 percent at the end of 2018.

Along with roller-coaster interest rates, the mortgage industry has seen a cycle of hiring and firing.

A drop in interest rates in response to the coronavirus is adding urgency to a hiring spree across the mortgage industry, LA Times reported. The 10-year Treasury fell below 1 percent for the first time ever. Treasury yields guide mortgage rates and loan officers face an avalanche of refinancing applications — the most since May 2013.

Four of the country’s top 15 mortgage lenders anticipate hiring thousands of employees this year to keep up with what they expect to be a flood of demand for refinancing and purchase loans.

Uncertainty is feeding the frenzy. No one knows how long the low rates will last, or whether they’ll get lower or go higher.

Thirty-year mortgage rates have dropped to the low-to-mid 3-percent range on a 30-year fixed-rate, and below 3 percent on a 15-year fixed-rate, said Quicken Loans CEO Jay Farner in an interview with MarketWatch.

The country’s largest mortgage lender since 2018, Quicken Loans had its busiest day on Monday for mortgage applications in the company’s 35-year history. Quicken expects to hire several hundred new employees per month this year, LA Times reported. Since launching its Rocket Mortgage technology in 2015, Quicken has focused on digitizing the loan process, starting a trend across the industry.

Because rates are so low, people refinancing a 30-year loan to a lower term can get a payment today at a 15-year rate that is similar to a payment they would have made four or five years ago on 30-year when rates were in the 5-percent range, Farner said. They could pay their home off in 15 years for far less interest.

Farner said he doesn’t forsee a 30-year fixed rate mortgage going below 3 percent. “I think we were seeing a lot of uncertainty, and that creates volatility in the market, which is causing the drop in the 10-year Treasury and mortgage rates,” he told MarketWatch. “Bad or good news, certainty about what’s going to happen I believe will cause interest rates to rise. Right now, we have a complete lack of certainty, and so that’s why we’re seeing this.” 

Even if it is announced that the coronavirus will be a worse than we thought, “that would bring certainty,” Farner said. “Take advantage of the savings. And if I were a betting man, I’d say there’s a higher probability rates will rise in the next few weeks.”

Other mortgage companies and mortgage applicants are acting like they see it the same way.

United Wholesale Mortgage approved $2.5 billion of preliminary loans, a single-day record for the company, according to chief strategy officer Alex Elezaj. A division of United Shore Financial Services — the country’s third-largest home lender — UWM plans to hire 2,000 people in 2020 to add to its 5,400 employees.

With an average mortgage processing time of 12 days, the company is on track to originate as many mortgages in three months as it did all of 2019.

Underwriters are being offered signing bonuses and the chance to make big money if they’re willing to work long hours Gold Star Mortgage Financial. “If you’re not making a $1 million this year as a loan officer, you’re grossly incompetent,” Gold Star executive Eric Mitchell told the LA Times. “‘I tell them, ‘We’re not working 40 hours a week; kiss your families goodbye.’”

JPMorgan Chase told its home-equity staff last week that half of the team will be transferred to mortgages to keep up with demand, according to an internal memo seen by Bloomberg.

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There’s a major caveat to the current interest rate plunge, LA Times reported. A global recession with reduced trade and economic activity will be bad for business.

If that happens, “you will start to see people not qualify for a mortgage,” said Michael Jones, CFO of Thrive Mortgage. “That is the biggest risk right now.”

Mike Patterson, COO at Freedom Mortgage Corp., said he expects interest rates for the typical 30-year mortgage to fall below 3.25 percent and stay there for the rest of the year.

Quicken Loans’ Farner said he expects rates to rise.

“If I were a betting man, I’d say there’s a higher probability rates will rise in the next few weeks,” Farner said.