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Mortgage Shopping 101

Consumers will research on average 3 different models of computers before purchasing one. Why does the real estate correspondent care about computers? I don't. I'm just throwing out some important background information to make my point, like that 96 percent of American consumers compare prices when shopping for anything.

Here's my point: 40 percent of us get just one quote when shopping for a home loan.

"I think it reflects that consumers are still very confused," notes Doug Lebda, CEO of LendingTree, which did the survey. Yes, I know, LendingTree is an online service that helps you shop for loans, but they did it through Harris Interactive, which surveyed over 1,300 homeowners.

"When you're shopping for a mortgage, there are lots of rates and terms and points and programs being thrown at you," explains Lebda. "You might be almost upside down on your mortgage, you've just gone through two years of great confusion in your financial lives, and so you feel maybe just happy to be getting a deal and to be saving a little money and to be actually qualifying."

Now here's the really ridiculous part: Only 28 percent of the people surveyed said they were confident they got the best deal.

Haven't we all learned our lesson yet in mortgage shopping? Apparently not. How is it that 9 out of 10 surveyed know that mortgage interest rates vary among lenders, but so few chose to find out how much?? I agree with the confusion factor, but I'm not all that sure shopping for a mortgage is any more confusing than shopping for a computer (of course I'm not a 20 or 30-something, so there's that).

There is also likely a large trust issue. Nobody trusts the mortgage market anymore, so many borrowers are likely going to brokers they already know, especially when refinancing, which by the way is the vast majority of mortgage applications these days. They figure that if the knowledgeable broker, who didn't cheat them before, is doing the shopping now, it must be the best rate. Obviously that's not the case. There is a lot of variation in the market today, especially in the market today!

"Volatility in interest rates actually increases the spread and the competition among banks, so you see more variation than you do when rates aren't so volatile," explains Lebda. "The reason for that is that some lenders are very busy, and when lenders are very busy their margins get wider. Other lenders might not be as busy, and just like a retail store, if there's no traffic in the store then they're going to cut price."

You see where I'm going with this. As rates go up, it is ever more crucial to be a bargain shopper, especially if you've got solid credit and either equity in the home you're refinancing or plenty of money to put down on the home you're buying. I don't care how you go about doing it, but just make sure, the same way you will with that new cell phone you're about to buy, that you're getting the best deal.

Questions? Comments? RealtyCheck@cnbc.comAnd follow me on Twitter @Diana_Olick

  • Diana Olick serves as CNBC's real estate correspondent as well as the editor of the Realty Check section on CNBC.com.

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