Financial experts suggest that borrowers should apply for a new mortgage loan, or refinance their home loan when the time is right for their individual needs, rather than attempt to time the market. While risk takers may be enthusiastic about waiting until the last minute to lock in a low mortgage interest rate, most homeowners and homebuyers prefer to observe general mortgage market trends and focus more intently on their own finances. (If you can't qualify for or don't want a traditional mortgage, one of these options might be right for you. See 4 Alternatives To A Traditional Mortgage.)

IN PICTURES: 5 Steps To Attaining A Mortgage

Predicting a specific mortgage rate for a particular time is pretty nearly impossible, but real estate market observers have identified a few trends that they anticipate will impact the mortgage market in 2011:

  1. Mortgage rates will slowly rise throughout the year.
    The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) anticipates that rates will rise slightly in 2011, hovering around 5% and increasing to about 6% in 2012. Holden Lewis of Bankrate wrote earlier this fall that economists had predicted a rise in mortgage rates by the third quarter of 2010. At the end of 2010, mortgage rates began to climb out of the 4% range and slightly above 5%. While any increase in mortgage rates is unwelcome to homeowners who want to refinance or to buyers, a 5% mortgage rate is still historically in the low range of interest rates.
  2. Overall demand for mortgages will decrease.
    The MBA predicts that total mortgage originations for 2011 will decline to less than $1 trillion, driven by subdued economic growth and a lack of consumer confidence.
  3. Mortgage refinancing applications will drop.
    Mortgage refinancing has represented a large portion of all mortgage applications in any given week this year, with the refinancing applications accounting for about 80% of all mortgages written this year. The MBA predicts that refinancing activity will drop below 40% of mortgages in 2011 and decline further to 26% of mortgages in 2012. Not only will rising mortgage rates reduce the demand for refinancing, but the pool of qualified homeowners will shrink. Homeowners who could qualify are likely to have done so in 2010, and others have difficulty obtaining a loan approval because of reduced equity or credit or income challenges.

IN PICTURES: 5 Simple Ways To Invest In Real Estate

  1. Mortgage applications for a home purchase will become a greater part of the market.
    The MBA predicts that stabilizing home prices and modest increases in home sales will increase the number of applications for a mortgage for a home purchase.
  2. Jumbo loan mortgages will be more attractive.
    In 2009 and earlier in 2010, mortgage rates for jumbo loans (loans over $417,000 in most housing markets and above $729,750 in high-cost housing markets) were far higher than mortgage rates for conforming loans. The higher rates prevented homeowners from refinancing and kept some purchasers out of the market for more expensive homes. In the Q4 of 2010, mortgage rates on jumbo loans decreased, which will likely spur refinancing applications and purchase applications for the high-end housing market.
  3. All-cash purchases will become a larger part of the market.
    Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the National Association of Realtors (NAR), says that all-cash purchases represented about a quarter of all existing home purchases in the last four months of 2010. He anticipates all-cash purchases to continue to represent a significant portion of the market in 2011.
  4. The mortgage loan process will remain slow and complex.
    Holden Lewis at Bankrate says even if the number of loan applications drops, lenders anticipate that the time between application and closing will continue to take as much as 60 days. In fact, many lenders recommend a loan lock of 60, 75 or even 90 days to ensure that the loan process will be complete within the lock period. One issue is simply the new level of documentation and verification that is required for a loan approval. Another issue that slows refinancing applications is the existence of a second mortgage or a home equity line of credit, which must be re-subordinated to the first loan when refinancing. Getting a lender to agree to keep the home equity loan in the second position can be time-consuming.

The Bottom Line
While these general mortgage trends may impact the real estate market overall, each homeowner or buyer considering applying for a mortgage should meet with a lender to determine the cost and availability of a loan that meets his or her needs. (If you're considering a downtrodden property, read Foreclosures: Bargains Or Money Pits? and Do You Need A Home Inspection?)

For the latest financial news, see Water Cooler Finance: FBI Insider-Trading Bust.

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