The Problem With Mortgage Rate Surveys

September 6, 2012 2 Comments »
The Problem With Mortgage Rate Surveys

Every week, mortgage financier Freddie Mac comes out with a mortgage rate survey, which reveals the average interest rate (and points) charged by lenders for popular types of home loans.

About 125 lenders from across the nation, including thrifts, mortgage lenders, credit unions and commercial banks, take part in the survey that dates back to 1971.

The survey data is collected from Monday to Wednesday, and the results are posted on Freddie Mac’s website on Thursday of each week.

Come Thursday morning, the media goes nuts with the data in the report, known as the Primary Mortgage Market Survey (PMMS).

And just minutes after its release, you’ll see startling headlines like, “mortgage rates fall again,” or “mortgage rates climb higher.”

Mortgage Rate Data Delayed

Unfortunately, whatever the message may be for a given week, it’s often old news by the time the media gets their grubby hands on it.

You see, mortgage rates can and will change daily, and sometimes swing dramatically, depending on what’s going on that week.

Lately, there have been plenty of swings thanks to all the uncertainty regarding the direction of the economy.

So a mortgage rate quote (yes, they’re just quotes in the survey) given to a handful of borrowers on Monday may be completely different by Thursday.

Sure, it could be exactly the same too, but chances are it won’t be. And the direction of rates often highlighted in news reports may be completely wrong as well.

Imagine opening up a newspaper on Thursday morning and viewing stock quotes from a few days earlier. That wouldn’t do you much good, would it? Especially if you had to act on it.

Assumptions Aplenty

Okay, so the data isn’t as timely as the media might make it appear, even if it’s “weighted” and “averaged” and “algorithmically adjusted.”

Yes, I’m making up phrases here, but the point is the data is only as good as the day it is released, at least for the purposes of a prospective borrower shopping rates.

On top of that, the rates in the survey assume the world of you, the borrower.

The rates are based on first-lien (first mortgage) prime (great credit) conventional (non-government) conforming mortgages (small loan amounts) with a loan-to-value ratio of 80% (big down payment).

In other words, if you’re not putting down 20%, the rate in the survey isn’t for you. And if your credit score isn’t tip-top, you should also ignore the rates in the survey unless you want to be disappointed.

If you’ve got a jumbo loan, again, don’t bother reading the survey if you’re curious what rate you’ll actually receive.

Are the Surveys a Waste of Time?

I know I sound overly negative about the survey, but back in the day, I used to report on it just like every other major media outlet.

I stopped after I realized it wasn’t adding much value, not to mention the fact that 1000 other news outlets wrote about the very same stuff every Thursday.

The surveys aren’t inherently bad, they’re just not a very effective tool for borrowers. If anything, they’re good to measure interest rates over time.

And a researcher may use the data to explain something that happened in the past, or to attempt to predict something that may happen in the future.

But for mortgage rate shopping, the Freddie survey (or any of the many, many other surveys out there) won’t do you much good. If anything, it could just frustrate you (and your loan officer) when the numbers don’t match up.

Zillow launched a weekly mortgage rate update a while back that is released every Tuesday. They actually note that theirs isn’t a survey and the rates aren’t “marketing rates,” but rather are based on custom mortgage rate quotes submitted daily, reflecting the most recent market changes.

Again, take them with a grain of salt because there is no one-size-fits-all in mortgage lending.

So if you want the real skinny, get daily mortgage pricing from the bank or lender you’re working with.

2 Comments

  1. Ryan September 14, 2012 at 2:09 am -

    Hi, I don’t live in America, but I am curious about how those mortgage rates are displayed.

    Wouldn’t it be easier for banks to just display the fixed spread, plus X Months LIBOR / SOR (or whichever index is used)?

    Is there a particular reason why mortgages are shown this way in the States?

  2. Colin Robertson September 24, 2012 at 12:21 pm -

    That would probably be too confusing for the average consumer. Plus many mortgages here are fixed, and don’t rely on an associated index. At the end of the day, consumers just want to see an interest rate and an estimated payment.

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