You can shop for a mortgage rate without actually submitting a mortgage application. Unfortunately, the U.S. Government has made it illegal for the banks to give you a "good faith estimate" of the mortgage cost and terms without submitting a mortgage application. On the other hand, government regulations make the "good faith estimates" somewhat misleading. (For one thing, they rarely are good for estimating how much money you will need to "bring to the closing table".)
My understanding is that in the United States, multiple credit checks within a two-week period while shopping for a mortgage are combined to ding your credit rating only once.
You need the following information to shop for a mortgage:
A realistic "appraisal value". Unless your market is going up quickly, a fair purchase price is usually close enough.
Your expected loan amount (which you or a banker can estimate based on your down payment and likely closing costs).
Your middle credit score, for purposes of mortgage applications. (If you have a co-borrower, such as a spouse, many banks use the lower of the two persons' middle credit score).
The annual property tax cost for the property, taking into account the new purchase price.
The annual cost of homeowners' insurance.
The annual cost of homeowners' association dues.
Your minimum monthly payments on all debt. Banks tend to round up the minimum payments. Also, banks care whether any of that debt is secured by real estate.
Your monthly income. Banks usually include just the amount for which you can show that you are currently in the job, with regular paychecks and tax withholding, and that you have been in similar jobs (or training for such jobs) for the last two full years. Banks usually subtract out any business losses that show up on tax returns. There are special rules for alimony and child support payments.
The loan terms you want, such as a 15-year fixed rate or 30-year fixed rate.
The amount of points you are willing to pay. Many banks are willing to lower your "note rate" by 0.125% if you pay 0.5% up-front. The pros and cons of paying points is a good topic for another question.
Whether you want a so-called "no-fee" or "no-closing cost" loan. These loans cost less up-front, but have a higher "note rate".
Unless you ask for a "no-fee" or "no-closing cost" loan, most banks have similar charges for things like:
- title insurance (this varies from place-to-place, and with the value of the property)
- escrow and settlement services
- checking whether the house is in a flood zone.
- credit report fees
- recording fees
- how many months of taxes and insurance you need to pre-pay into an escrow account.
- et cetera.
So the big differences are usually in:
- Origination and underwriting fees
- Note rate
- How good the bank is at explaining your options, and letting you keep track of the status of your application.
- How good the bank is at closing loans before the "rate lock" expires.
- Whether you have to pay if the bank screws up the loan application. For example, KeyBank charges $ 500 if you apply for a loan and they turn you down because they screwed up the appraisal.
- Whether the bank has competent underwriting and appraisals. Do not trust any mortgage lender who outsources their underwriting to PHH.
- Whether the bank usually keeps the mortgage "in their own portfolio", or usually sells the mortgage.
- The bank's reputation for servicing loans, and for how they handle loans if, down the road, you have trouble making payments. Bank of America has a particularly bad reputation.
As discussed above, you can come up with a simple number for (roughly) comparing fixed-rate mortgage loan offers. Take the loan origination (and similar) fees, and divide them by the loan amount. Divide that percentage by 4. Add that percentage to the "note rate" for a loan with "no points". Use that last adjusted note rate to compare offers. (This method works because you have the choice of using up-front savings to pay "points" to lower the "note rate".)
Notice that once you have your middle credit score, you can ask other lenders to estimate the information above without actually submitting another loan application. Because the mortgage market fluctuates, you should compare rates on the same morning of the same day. You might want to check with three lenders, to see if your real estate agent's friend is competitive:
- A local bank (perhaps your real estate agent's friend). In many states, Washington Federal is worth considering.
- A local mortgage broker (perhaps your real estate agent's friend is a mortgage broker, instead of a bank loan officer).
- A national bank with call-center based mortgage lending. Bank Rate Monitor's list of lowest priced lenders often includes call-center based mortgage lenders.