Higher borrowing costs may prompt buyers and sellers to rethink their real estate plans, but you can help them find a workaround to achieve their goals.
Juggling businessman takes a gamble on mortgage rates

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For three months, Koki Adasi worked hard to help his buyer find the perfect one-bedroom condo on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Finally, in the spring, the right listing emerged for $450,000, slightly above the buyer’s budget. Adasi, CRS, SRS, was able to negotiate a $20,000 discount on the price, and his client was prepared to move forward on her first home purchase—until she got a jolt from her lender.

Although the buyer, who works as a corporate senior manager, had been preapproved for a mortgage, interest rates had gone up one-eighth of a percentage point since she began her home search in early January. The new rates would have added $25 to her monthly mortgage payments—an extra $300 a year—which made her think twice about the purchase. Pushed to the edge of her financial comfort zone, Adasi’s client eventually walked away from the deal. “Many buyers have a certain lifestyle they want to preserve and a comfort zone set in their minds,” says Adasi, a team leader who recently moved to Compass Real Estate. “The issue [for this buyer] really wasn’t about money. She could afford a significantly higher price range, but she had a modest comfort zone that she wanted to stay in.”

As mortgage rates hover just below the 5 percent mark, ending an era of the lowest averages in modern U.S. history, some buyers, especially first-timers, are feeling the strain in their pocketbooks. The hikes also may convince would-be sellers to stay put and hold onto their current rates rather than move up to a higher-priced home with a costlier rate. In turn, that could further exacerbate tight inventory.

All of this means real estate professionals need to develop strategies for helping clients adjust their expectations so they can remain in the real estate game as the costs of buying rise. Qualified buyers might look into FHA loans and other mortgage products with lower rates and down payment requirements, says Tracy Anderson, a broker with Prime Real Estate in Hobart, Ind. But whatever advice you give, it’s important to communicate the need to make decisions quickly once a rate locks in. “The longer you wait, the more expensive it’s going to be,” says Brant Tullidge, a sales associate with RE/MAX Commonwealth in Richmond, Va.

Of course, speeding up the buying process to lock in rates may cause inconveniences for many of your clients. If your buyers are renters making the switch to homeownership, for example, see whether they can arrange a month-to-month or short-term lease while searching for homes, says Jeff Miller, co-founder of AE Home Group in Baltimore. It gives them more time while also encouraging faster decision-making.

It’s also smart to prep buyers early about negotiating their must-have list, says Jessica Murphy, a sales associate with Julia B. Fee Sotheby’s International Realty in Irvington, N.Y. You don’t want to spend precious time grappling with unrealistic expectations when daily movement in mortgage rates could price your client out of the market. Murphy talks with her buyers about location most of all, encouraging them to focus on areas farther outside New York to find cheaper homes that meet their criteria. The point is that the lower the sales price, the more clients can withstand upward pressure on mortgage rates. “And a longer commute translates into lower prices,” Murphy says.

Your buyers may well become sellers down the road, and no one can predict where mortgage rates will be at that point. Even if rates aren’t the biggest issue on their minds now, have your clients consider how future mortgage rates could impact their sale. With further hikes expected this year and beyond, buyers may want to choose a property they can envision staying put in for several years.

Though sellers may ask for a flexible closing timeline as they search for another home, closing quickly can help any buyer (or relocating seller) secure a lower mortgage rate, Tullidge says. He’s seen some lenders offer a lower rate for a 30-day versus a 60-day closing. Ultimately, you must move at a pace your clients are comfortable with, but don’t be afraid to give them a nudge when it’s in their best interest. “When it’s the right house, you’ve got to move,” Murphy says.