"If the savings in one year’s interest repayments at the new lender’s rate is greater than double the cost to switch, it is an exercise worth doing."
Why mortgage holders should talk to their lenders and consider refinancing: Cameron McEvoy
I want to begin by saying this: I do not house any hostility towards lenders. In fact, I’ve written many times in the past about how lenders can be your best friend when it comes to starting out fresh in your property investment career. Let’s be honest; if you’re like most new investors out there, you don’t have suitcases of cash just lying around, ready to buy real estate with, so lenders can absolutely be the “determining force” in your decision to get into property investment. If no one will lend you money, well, your pipe dreams can be quickly flushed.
All of that aside, lenders are simply a means to an end. Providing that you find a lender that offers the best rate and features relevant to you, they are all pretty much the same. For many years, lenders had, quite cunningly and cleverly, marketed themselves as more of an authority over you. They did this by using a certain kind of language when discussing and corresponding in paperwork the nature of their products. Basically, they made it seem like you were locked in forever to their mortgage products. One way they did this was to charge excessive and complicated “break fees” should you ever look to shop around and move to a different financier.
The industry watchdogs, and eventually government bodies, cottoned on to these tactics and established legislation to remove all of these break fees, effectively making it much easier to switch your mortgage to a better/cheaper product in the marketplace. So you know (and it goes without saying, you need to double-check this yourself should you actually be looking at breaking a mortgaging product), banks cannot charge their exit fees anymore, however you will always have to pay the government processing fees – usually a couple of hundred dollars only – to get out of a mortgage.
There was initial fear that as a result, lenders would recoup these losses by charging heavier entrance fees into new mortgage products; however this has not really happened as yet, at least to extremes. The beauty of the removal of break fees meant that the marketplace has become more competitive, and lenders now actually have to fight their competition to get a slice of your potential custom.
For any would-be switchers out there, my advice is to do up a spreadsheet and calculate all the costs to switch out from one product into a new one. If the savings in one year’s interest repayments at the new lender’s rate is greater than double the cost to switch, it is an exercise worth doing.
When approaching lenders as a property investor – even if it is your first property – you should always make clear mention of your growth potential and desire to hold a large portfolio. Although it won’t win you any brownie points in terms of qualification and verification for mortgage products, mentioning your growth plan to them will certainly make them earmark you on their computer systems! No jokes – I’ve seen lenders who literally input an asterisk against someone’s details, which is pretty much code for “keep an eye on this one; he could be a repeat customer!” I would encourage everyone to do this when buying their first property, even if you only intend on buying a home to occupy and never an investment property.
It is therefore important to remind a lender at times just how valuable you can be as a potential “repeat customer”. Having a great mortgage broker working for you can help with this – they are able to leverage – and effectively vouch for – your future portfolio growth expansion/potential and use this as a bargaining chip to negotiate better product offerings back to you, but I strongly believe that it is always important to have a direct and solid relationship with your lender(s).
All of this is especially important when considering the times we’re living in. Finance is edging further and further down, and interest rates could fall to all-time lows. Lenders know this. They understand how the cheaper rates in market will truly change the dynamic for everyone. In fact, I attribute the recent increase in lender marketing campaigns, which heavily promote “switch to us” themes in their tactics as a response to this trend. For example, UBank from NAB has released an online home loan product offering a variable rate of 5.62%, one of the cheapest currently on offer in the market. But the bank is very quick to point out the product is only available to new customers and switchers from other lenders. Existing customers cannot get access to this product.
So as the market – investors and owner-occupiers alike – respond to cheaper finance products hitting the market, consumer confidence may begin to return. This could mean that would-be buyers, who previously held the mantra “the entire global market is too unstable; now is the worst time to take a risk” change to a mindset of “the global market might not be so stable, but darn it, rates are probably not going to be this cheap again anytime soon, so I should give this a second look”.
I’d love to hear from the community about experiences in mortgage switching – was it easy? Were there in fact hidden costs (whether it is a government cost, lender cost, or other kind of cost)? And did the old and new lenders make the process easy or hard? Also, when leaving your lender, was there a last-dash attempt to keep your custom, or did it let you go easily?
Cameron McEvoy is a NSW-based property investor and maintains a blog, Property Spectator.