When it comes to making major purchases or financial decisions, we always hear that mantra, "Everything is negotiable." You can haggle with the salesman when shopping for a new car, or with the hiring manager at a new job over your starting salary. It’s even possible to negotiate your tuition rates as a college student.
But a lot of the costs associated with buying a house can be difficult to negotiate down, according to mortgage advisor and author Casey Fleming.
"Appraisal, underwriter and processor are chosen by the lender, and the variation in fees is quite small," he says. "Escrow and title services are typically chosen by the real estate agent of the seller in most areas, so the buyer has little say in what those fees will be."
There’s also not much way around paying private mortgage insurance -- you’ll need no less than a 20% down payment to avoid it.
But, you don’t need to let the non-negotiable items prevent you from bargaining for a better deal on other house-hunting costs. Here are a few fees and costs worth negotiating:
Real estate broker’s fees and commissions
From the outset, consider negotiating your real estate broker’s fees, according to Prof. David Reiss of the Brooklyn Law School, who teaches real estate finance and community development. "If 6% is standard in your community, you can look for brokers who will sell your home for 5% or less," he says. "Be careful how low to go though, because you want your broker to be motivated enough to sell your property."
Reiss notes that to gain the most advantage in negotiating their fees, your broker’s listing agreement should outline all the services they’ll provide you regarding advertisements, showing, and the plan in place to buy or sell the property in question.
You can also negotiate commission rates if you work with a real estate agent or broker. (The difference between the two? An agent is anyone who earns their real estate license; a broker has earned education beyond the agent level and passed their broker’s license exam, according to Realtor.com.)
The amount you’re able to negotiate and leverage depends on the cost of the property, notes foreclosure investor Juan Diaz. "You can ask for a little money back, especially if you're buying a high-priced home," Diaz says.
Loan origination fees
Your loan origination fee is pretty self explanatory: it’s what your lender charges you for originating, or creating, your home loan. The fee compensates them for starting the process of drafting paperwork and underwriting, plus verifying your information and credit standing.
Loan origination fees are generally about 1% of the total cost of the home loan, which may not initially seem like a lot of money until you consider that on a $200,000 mortgage, your origination fee will come to $2,000, give or take. Since the pricier the mortgage, the costlier the fee, it’s worth haggling over the price with your lender -- but, like the factors that help you qualify for the loan, those with excellent credit scores and solid incomes are in the best position to successfully strike a deal for a lower rate.
These junk (or "garbage") fees are a necessary evil of the mortgage lending process: application fees, mortgage rate lock fees and loan processing fees. You may not be able to get them waived entirely, but negotiating them down is something you should try.
While not excessively cost prohibitive on their own, added up they can start to crimp your wallet, so experts recommend talking your lender down with those fees as best as you can. Mortgage and processing fees can cost between $200 to $500, for example; even shaving off $50 for each one frees up more money towards a down payment or other house-buying expense.
Homeowners insurance is a must if you’re going to buy a house, securing you against robbery, property damage or injury to you or your family members, whether from natural disasters, fire or some other calamitous dilemma.
Then there’s title insurance, which has little to do with the actual structure of the house but offers coverage against problems encountered with the mortgage title. For instance, if it’s a pre-existing home, title insurance protects you from losing your home if any unknown financial or legal issues arise, like outstanding liens, fraud or forgery you weren’t aware of when you signed the home loan.
You might not want to forego title insurance, but look to apply your negotiation skills before shelling out bucks for a policy; the average premium for a standard policy is $1,000, though some policies can range from a few hundred dollars to about $2,000 a year, so it pays to cast a wide net and find the lowest rate you can if haggling with one insurer gets you nowhere.
Your actual mortgage rates
The interest rates approved by your lender depend mostly on the strength of your credit score (and then there’s the fee to pull your credit report to begin with). The only way to ultimately control the outcome of your APR and your FICO score is to work towards building and maintaining your credit before taking out a mortgage loan -- staying out of debt, paying your bills on time, not borrowing more money than you need, etc. Only then can your solid credit standing qualify you for lower rates.
But there’s another way to work around getting stuck with high interest rates for the next 15 or 30 years: paying discount points to lower your APR. One mortgage "point" (like your loan origination fees) is equal to about 1% of the amount borrowed in your home loan. So, for a $200,000 home loan, paying one point -- worth $2,000 -- can reduce your APR by 1% (say 6.9% to 5.9%).
Granted, paying points isn’t exactly a case of bargaining with words to convince your lender to reduce your rate -- you’re essentially paying money (in the form of prepaid interest) to save money. If you’re willing to pay for a reduction, make sure that it actually saves you in the long run on your mortgage; using a mortgage rate calculator can help you determine if forking over $2,000 or $3,000 (or however much you’re willing to front) will be worth the reduction in your principal and balance over the next several years.
The bottom line
Your bottom line should be your top priority when configuring your total mortgage costs -- it’ll be a decades-long commitment, after all. Most mortgage costs can be set in stone, or at least seem that way; this can discourage loan borrowers from negotiating and being proactive in the process.
Making sure to take advantage of the home lending costs that can be negotiated means taking ownership of the fees and costs you pay. Remember: your brokers, agents and affiliated people in the process are working for you. By harnessing your own financial needs and obtaining discounts, reductions and lower rates, it’ll serve you well for the future, giving you the experience you need should you ever decide to refinance your loan down the road.