In an unusual twist, lenders are offering rates on jumbo mortgages that are more than a quarter of a percentage point lower than those on the conforming loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The government-run agencies require conforming loans to be below $417,000, unless they are for homes in high-cost areas like New York or Los Angeles,where the limit is $625,500.
Jumbo loans exceed those dollar limits and, historically, banks charge higher rates on them -- about 0.25 percentage points more -- than they do for conforming loans, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. But over the past couple of months, the tables have turned.
This week, Wells Fargo (WFC, Fortune 500) advertised a 30-year jumbo mortgage at a rate of 4.125%, significantly lower than the 4.5% rate it is offering for a 30-year, fixed-rate conforming loan. US Bank (USB, Fortune 500) is offering a jumbo for 3.875% this week compared with 4.25% for a conforming loan. And Chase's (JPM, Fortune 500) jumbos have been running a quarter of a percentage point below conventional mortgages, as have TD Bank's (TD).
"Never in my memory have jumbos been such a bargain," said Peter Grabel, a loan officer at Luxury Mortgage Corp. in Stamford, Ct., with 13 years on the job.
One big reason jumbo rates are so low is because lenders want to attract wealthy clients and hang on to them, said Malcolm Hollensteiner, head of consumer lending for TD Bank. Once clients sign up for a mortgage, the bank can "cross sell them other products, like brokerage services," he said.
That works especially well in these days of strict underwriting standards, according to Keith Gumbinger, a mortgage expert with HSH.com.
"Borrowers have to open up their whole financial picture to lenders," he said. "They can see where there's value, which they might be able to sell against."
Once a wealthy client takes out one of these low-rate loans, they are likely to stick around. "With rates as low as they are, borrowers are never going to refinance the loans. Those affluent clients will stay on the bank's books forever," said Gumbinger.
Jumbo loans have also gotten comparatively cheaper. As the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), which regulates Fannie and Freddie, seeks to boost the two agencies' reserves against losses from mortgage defaults, it has raised fees and other costs for borrowers, according to Terry Francisco, a Bank of America spokesman.
Since Fannie and Freddie don't back jumbo mortgages, those fees don't apply and therefore aren't passed on to borrowers.
Read More: http://money.cnn.com/2013/11/12/real_estate/jumbo-mortgages/