Cheryl Hutton and Aaron Coates always thought getting a mortgage would be a challenge. But within 18 days of visiting a mortgage broker, they were able to close a deal on a new townhouse in Calgary without a hitch.
Now in their early thirties, both have careers in the theatre, something Ms. Hutton says has been a bit of a sticking point with banks. "In our industry we never fit the paperwork guidelines 'for the banks.' For some reason, people don't think we pay our bills."
Although it was their first home purchase, Ms. Hutton says it was surprising how easy the whole process was once they had someone who could walk them through it. "He sat us down, told us what our options were, showed us that it was possible and explained all the steps we needed to take. If it wasn't for him, we may not have made the leap."
Sorting through a mortgage process and negotiating rates can be overwhelming for firsttime and seasoned home buyers alike. That's why people such as Ms. Hutton and Mr. Coates turn to brokers to do the legwork for them.
Yet mortgage brokers will tell you that a good portion of home buyers out there don't really understand what they do. "Part of the challenge we have in our world is that people aren't really sure what a mortgage broker is," says Gary Siegle, regional manager for Invis Inc., a mortgage brokerage firm in Calgary.
Brokers should not be confused with "rovers," mortgage specialists attached to a specific financial institution who visit customers outside of banking hours, Mr. Siegle explains.
"They only deal with that bank's product. A broker, however, is an intermediary whose job is to make a match between a lender and a borrower. We represent the individual, not the bank."
About 30% of mortgages in Canada are done through a broker, according to Perry Quinton, vicepresident, marketing, for Investor Education Fund, a Toronto-based non-profit financial information service.
"The reason more people don't know about them is because the banks are so visible. It's easy to gravitate to them when you have your savings accounts, credit cards and investments there already," Ms. Quinton says.
Going for the comfort factor could cost you however, she adds. "A broker has access to different lenders including banks, and can shop rates and features. A halfper-cent may not sound like much but that could make a difference of about $20,000 for a $250,000 mortgage amortized over 25 years. Any little bit helps."
Mr. Siegle confirms that shopping around can deliver significant savings.
"Let's take today's average posted rate of 5.44%, and you get a point off that at your bank. So you think you just got a really great deal. But the vast majority of rates we deal with as brokers would be another 30 basis points lower -around 4.14%. And if you look at preferred deals that don't offer features such as prepayment privileges, it can get as low as 3.89%. That's another 25 basis points below what's generally available."
The reason for that is simple, he says. "We offer wholesale rates, banks offer retail."
For anyone considering a broker, Ms. Quinton advises people to do a bit of groundwork first if they have the time.
"It helps to educate yourself about options and what you can afford. Look at all your living expenses, including student loans and credit card debt. Chances are you are understating those."
Another thing to look into is the different types of available mortgages and features, including interest rates, payment frequency, amortization, cash-back programs and the ability to make lump sum payments.
"Knowing these things before you go in can save you a lot of money," she adds.
Any mortgage broker you choose should always meet the right licensing and education requirements, so be sure to check their registration.
If you're not completely prepared, however, that shouldn't be a concern when working with a good mortgage broker, Mr. Siegle says.
"After all, mortgages are pretty much all we do. So even if you come in cold, good brokers will walk you through the process and ask all sorts of questions," Mr. Siegle notes.
"You just need to be prepared to answer them openly and honestly so they can get you the best deal possible."