California-based Pennymac launched a product that can freeze mortgage rates as many as 90 days, in a bid to attract more borrowers to the market amid volatile rates.
Dubbed “Lock & Shop,” the product, rolled out in mid-June, has three terms, all of which include a shopping period, plus a built-in, 30-day period in which to close on the contract. The terms vary based on how much time a borrower anticipates needing to find their dream home: The 60-day lock gives borrowers 30 days to find their new home; the 75-day lock gives borrowers 45 days to shop; and the 90-day lock gives customers 60 days to select a home.
The product also allows a one-time “float down,” should rates decline. It’s available for all loan types, except for jumbo.
“As we know, the Federal Reserve has indicated they’re going to continue to raise rates, so we can lock in the loan with today’s rate for up to 90 days,” said Scott Bridges, senior managing director of direct consumer lending. “That might prevent you from either not buying the house you wanted or having to buy a lower-priced house because your payment would be higher with a higher rate.”
Pennymac’s product allows borrowers to extend their lock-in period at an updated rate if they do not find a house during the term length selected. Bridges said there’s no upfront fee, but the lender requires pre-approval to ensure borrowers qualify for a mortgage loan – in this case, the lender gives 50 basis points on the closing costs.
“There’s no point doing a Lock & Shop if your purchase is going to be fairly imminent, but we are seeing it to be a very popular product for our borrowers,” Bridges said. Pennymac has locked more than 100 applications with the product since mid-June.
Meeting the needs of a new generation of homebuyers while managing the ebbs and flows of a volatile housing market is a major endeavor for any mortgage lender. So, what should lenders be doing to thrive in the face of a post-pandemic housing market rife with new hurdles?
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Pennymac is the latest mortgage lender to freeze rates for borrowers. In late June, fintech startup Tomo also announced a “Lock & Shop” product, allowing borrowers to lock in a mortgage rate for as many as 120 days, about twice as long as most lenders.
The product does not require a property address to guarantee a mortgage rate. Founded in 2020 by former Zillow executives Greg Schwartz and Carey Armstrong, the fintech startup focuses on the $1.6 trillion purchase mortgage sector.
“Consumers had seen so much news coverage on a threatened recession, inflation and interest rate increases that they got stuck,” Tomo’s co-founder and CEO Greg Schwartz said. “They are saying: ‘I’m afraid that if I start shopping now, by the time I find a place — because there’s still limited inventory, I still have to make multiple offers — and, by the time I find a home, I may have much less buying power.'”
Since January, mortgage rates have risen quickly due to high inflation and the Federal Reserve’s plan to tighten monetary policy. And that has put pressure on mortgage lenders with extended lock-in periods.
When rates are surging, lenders’ capital markets teams have trouble selling loans locked at a lower rate because investors demand higher returns. That often forces lenders to sell at par or take a loss.
But Pennymac and Tomo said they can offer extended lock-in periods because their capital markets teams are hedging the transactions (so they can avoid losses when selling loans at the current mortgage rate in the secondary market in the future) and the companies have strong balance sheets.
Last summer, Tomo launched its platform after raising $70 million in seed capital and achieving “unicorn” status. In 2022, Tomo said it raised another $40 million in a Series A round led by SVB Capital, which more than doubled the company’s valuation to $640 million.
Tomo, however, is not immune to the volatility in the markets. The digital mortgage lender laid off nearly one-third of its workforce in late May. The company does not disclose its origination volume.
Pennymac reported $490 million in cash as of March 31, according to Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings.
The company delivered a pretax net income of $234.5 million in the first quarter, essentially unchanged from the prior quarter. Pennymac expects to lay off 207 employees in June and July following a workforce reduction filing of more than 230 employees in March.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated July 14 to indicate Pennymac offers three term options for its “Lock & Shop” product. After publication, a spokeswoman provided additional information about a 60-day lock term, which had not been initially disclosed.