Rates for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage are the highest in over 20 years and may stay elevated for some time.

As borrowers reel from the sticker shock of conventional mortgages, lenders could see a surge of demand for alternative lending products, such as adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs), for the first time since the financial crisis.

Most potential borrowers should familiarize themselves with how these products work. Without the proper guidance, they could be enticed by attractive introductory rates only to choose the wrong product for their personal or financial situation in the long term.

One way lenders can create value is to upgrade the shopping experience so borrowers can easily understand, compare and contrast the available products. Here are three tips that can help.

1. Ask the right questions upfront

Most lenders ask borrowers a few initial questions to understand their needs better. But many tend to focus on the basics, like whether a borrower is a first-time homebuyer.

With more products on the table, lenders will need more granular data to steer borrowers toward the right one. In many cases, that product may still be a fixed-rate mortgage. But for some borrowers, a less traditional loan type could make the most financial sense. 

What is the best way to help borrowers choose? Start by asking enough questions early on to create a holistic borrower profile. We recommend enhancing your POS flow with an initial questionnaire. Ask these questions:

How long do they plan to stay in their home?

How comfortable are they with uncertainty?

How comfortable are they potentially making higher monthly payments after three, five or seven years?

Of course, the more questions you ask upfront, the more overwhelming the shopping process can feel to borrowers. To ease folks in, we suggest these action items:

Break down your questionnaire into manageable chunks. 

Add a progress bar that displays what percent of the questionnaire remains. 

Add a “Save and Continue Later” button that gives borrowers more flexibility (and allows you to keep folks engaged).

Add context about why you’re asking for specific information at every stage. Tooltips can be a powerful way to do so; they give borrowers the flexibility to toggle explanations. Tooltips are helpful when it comes to educating customers on your products, which we’ll dive into into next.

2. Educate borrowers early and often

Exotic lending products went mainstream in the early 2000s, leading, in part, to the 2008 financial crisis and the subsequent regulatory overhaul.

It’s worth emphasizing just how little borrowers knew about these products. In the run-up to 2008, many lenders emphasized low introductory mortgage rates and weren’t required to disclose the final terms until closing day. Without enough timely information to ask questions and compare options, borrowers had loans they couldn’t afford.

Today’s regulations require more precise disclosures earlier in the process to help people make more informed financial decisions. But they only apply after a borrower has submitted a loan application, which leaves room for ambiguity when shopping.

When lenders educate up front, they can add value when borrowers need it most. Here’s what we recommend:

Tailor your educational content to the borrower’s profile. Your initial questionnaire can help. For instance, if a borrower says they plan to relocate to Chicago in a few years, they might be a better candidate for a five-year ARM than someone who intends to stay in Charlotte indefinitely. At the comparison stage, you can prioritize education about that product and deprioritize products that might be a poor fit.

Help borrowers understand how rates may change over time. For instance, don’t just display a 3% teaser rate for an ARM. Instead, explain whether it adjusts annually or semiannually, along with the maximum annual adjustment factor and lifetime cap, plus what factors will affect the adjustable rate.

Offer information about refinancing. Many borrowers are familiar with the concept but may need to learn how it works. Spelling out the specifics may make some borrowers feel more comfortable taking on a fixed-rate loan at a 7% or higher rate.

Create an intuitive shopping experience. Avoid the dreaded info dump, where lending products display on an endless scroll with intimidating blocks of text. Instead, let borrowers compare a handful of products side by side. And present only the most important details first, with drop downs or tooltips that offer more information.

Even in a digital-first shopping landscape, loan officers are still a valuable resource for borrowers. Alongside on-screen sidebars and tooltips, ensure that borrowers can connect with a human expert for more hands-on guidance.

The goal is to help borrowers understand the risks and rewards of every product available and feel more confident in their decisions. 

3. Invest in the right technology

The key to a top-notch shopping experience is a digital platform that allows for everything we’ve discussed so far — all while fitting seamlessly with the rest of your origination software. Creating that platform, though, is often easier said than done.

For instance, if you choose to build your platform, you’ll have plenty of freedom in its design. But you’ll have to integrate it with your point of sale (POS) on the back end. That could make for a longer and more complex project that eats up more of your organization’s resources.

On the other hand, it might be worth talking with your POS vendor about customizing the shopping experience to fit your goals. This route could help you save on development time. 

However, most vendors don’t prioritize software features that seem like “nice to haves.” So you’ll have less control over the features that do get added, not to mention the development timeline. And keep in mind that if your vendor adds new capabilities, any lender — including your competitors — will be able to use them.

There’s no single best path here, but consider partnering with an experienced digital specialist to help you weigh the options available. This way, you can make the right decision for your business and your borrowers.

An intuitive shopping experience matters in any market

As “exotic” lending products become more attractive, borrowers will value lenders that demystify the shopping process to connect them with the right product for their needs. 

But the truth is that helpful lenders win in any market conditions. By upgrading your shopping experience now, you can set yourself — and your borrowers — up for long-term success, no matter how the wind blows.

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