Home Buyers: Save Money By Negotiating These Closing Costs
You may be able to avoid paying some fees once you know where to find them
Buying a house is costly enough, but on closing day, you might be surprised by fees you didn’t expect.
In 2010 at the height of the U.S. mortgage crisis, government reforms were passed to prevent predatory lenders from exploiting consumers with hidden fees. While all borrowers were vulnerable, predatory lenders targeted minorities, the elderly, the poor and those with less education, according to Debt.org.
Fees are less hidden now, but you should still expect to pay them when buying a home — and even more if you’re taking out a mortgage. These fees are called closing costs and are paid when you sign the final loan documents, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
But the big question is: Are any of these fees negotiable? The answer is yes — if you know where to look for them and how to ask.
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Read the fine print when you choose a lender
Consider closing costs when you shop for a mortgage lender. The closing costs lenders impose vary based on the services they offer, the local taxes and other third-party expenses they incur and pass on to the buyer, like the home appraisal and inspection costs.
When you do apply for a loan, the mortgage lender is required to send you a good faith estimate (GFE) of the fees due at closing within three working days of receiving your loan application, according to the CFPB.
What fees might be negotiable?
Fortunately, federal law has provided more clarity for consumers around closing costs and settlement procedures. The most recent revisions to the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) include a provision for a standardized GFE to improve disclosure of settlement costs and to help the consumer shop among service providers.
“As a consumer, you should assume that all lender fees are negotiable,” says Matthew Rice, a mortgage consultant in Atlanta.
No matter where a fee appears on the GFE form, don’t hesitate to say, “Please explain this fee to me,” suggests Bankrate.com. Questions like “Do I really need to have that done?” or “Is there any type of discount on that fee?” are appropriate. The key is to question everything but not in a rude or antagonistic way. Rather, approach the conversation as a consumer who wants to be informed.
Rice suggests your best bet for negotiation are these items on the GFE:
- Title related services (the administrative and processing services conducted by the lender on the title)
- Lender’s title insurance (to protect the lender from claims by others against your home)
- Owner’s title insurance (to ensure a clean title and to protect you against misdeeds by the seller)
- Survey of the property (to disclose its location)
- Pest inspection
- Loan discounts (more commonly known as “points”)
- Loan origination fee (covers the lender’s administrative cost of getting you the loan)
- Any other fees coded into section six of the GFE
If the lender allows you to shop for third-party services on the GFE, the lender must provide a written list of at least one provider for each service. If they list no service providers, it’s assumed to be a non-negotiable item and the fees will be bound by what’s on the GFE.
Some fees could change by the time of closing. That’s why it will be important to bring your GFE to closing to compare it with the charges listed on the HUD-1 Settlement Statement, a document you’ll sign at closing with an itemized list of all the finalized closing costs.
If you know how the process works and where to look in the mortgage documents for fees that may be negotiable, you might be able to save hundreds of dollars. You’ll need that extra cash for all the other expenses that come with owning a home.