For Sandra Kloner, the prospect of refinancing the adjustable-rate mortgage on her Capitol Hill town house is no longer as attractive and comforting as it was only two months ago.
In late March, Kloner's lender, Town & Country Mortgage & Investment Corp. in Fairfax, offered her a $130,000 loan at an attractive 9 1/2 percent interest. Like most Washington-area lenders, Town & Country guaranteed the rate for 60 days.
But now her 60-day lock-in period has expired, and Town & Country has offered her three new rates ranging from 10 1/4 to 10 3/4 percent that would cost her $11,000 to $18,000 more over the life of the loan and an additional $1,300 to $5,200 in up-front discount point charges. Each point charged is equal to 1 percent of the loan.
Kloner's lament is not unlike that for numerous other borrowers these days who have found that their 60-day loan commitments are expiring and lenders are not willing to extend the terms on the lower mortgage interest rates of 60 days ago.
Lending companies said they have become increasingly backlogged with a glut of refinancing applications from thousands of homeowners trying to capture the lowest interest levels in eight years. As a result, lenders have been unable to process loans within the 60-day, rate-secured period.
During the last three weeks, with interest rates going up, most lending companies have begun raising the earlier promised rates, claiming that because the 60-day lock-in periods have expired, they are under no obligation to honor them.
But numerous angry homeowners like Kloner, who now face the prospect of paying thousands of dollars more than they had planned because of the rate increases, are charging that lenders have been intentionally delaying their loan settlements in order to levy higher interest rates. They further claim that homeowners should not be punished with a higher rate because any delays have been caused by the mortgage industry, not consumers.
"I shopped around for the lowest rate," said Kloner, a psychotherapist who also paid Town & Country nearly $1,800 up front for processing her loan. "I feel I'm a sophisticated, educated consumer. But I've been caught . . . and I feel powerless."
Area lenders, however, said it is not they who have set the higher rates, but investors in the secondary market who buy the home loans. The lenders further claimed that they would lose money if a higher rate is not charged to the consumer because interest rates have generally increased in the last few weeks.
Tony Rogers, president of Town & Country, said lenders aren't "deliberately delaying" loan applications.
"I know it sounds suspicious, but it's a fact," Rogers said. "We're obviously in a real crunch and under a lot of pressure."
Because of processing delays and a late appraisal, Kloner missed her scheduled closing May 10. About two weeks later, her 60-day lock-in period expired.
On Thursday, three months after she applied for the refinanced mortgage, Kloner was told by Town & Country officials that they were getting ready to close on her loan. But the original 9 1/2 percent loan they first promised her was no longer available, and they offered her the higher rates.
"They've been procrastinating, waiting for the rates to go up so they can charge me more money. I'm really in a terrible bind," said Kloner, who added she is unsure of what to do next.
She said the consumer agencies she contacted told her she has little recourse, with the exception of a lawsuit, because regulations in the area of mortgage lending are scarce.
"I feel angry that our consumer laws can't protect us," Kloner said.
But Town & Country President Rogers said his firm would lose about $8,000 if he were to give Kloner her original rate because interest rates have risen in the secondary market. Rogers said he would refund Kloner's loan processing fee "if she wanted to go elsewhere, but the problem of course is that I don't think she'd find anything better."
Other area refinancers are as angry as Kloner.
Robert Wening was told in early March when he applied to refinance the mortgage on his Chevy Chase condominium that the entire process would take about four to six weeks. Wening stayed with his current lender, Congressional Mortgage, where he has a 12 3/4 percent loan, because he thought he'd get good service.
By April 9, the appraisal had been completed and Wening figured everything was running smoothly. But April and most of May slipped by before he finally heard from Congressional that his loan had been approved.
On May 19, he signed a Congressional loan form, which offered him a $101,000, 30-year loan at 9 3/4 percent. But the next day, the loan officer called and told Wening that the document he had signed did not lock in the 9 3/4 percent rate, and that the rate had risen to 10 1/4 percent.
"I was completely floored," said Wening, who is still waiting to settle on his loan. "I feel like they didn't act in very good faith."
Wening claimed that the new, higher rate quoted to him will cost him an additional $13,320 over the life of the loan, compared with his original 9 3/4 percent rate. "I'm certainly not the only one out here getting the shaft," he said.
Thomas Call, a vice-president at Congressional's McLean office, said that Wening's case "is between him and myself. . . . We don't care to comment."
Ruth Robbins, a District resident, said she became worried after reading recent accounts about the delays in loan processing that she would lose out on her 9 percent refinanced loan application because its lock-in period expires June 18.
With no appraisal done, Robbins called her lender two weeks ago to check on the delay. Her loan company, Perpetual American Mortgage Co., one of the area's largest, told her that it would not be able to meet her June 12 settlement date, thereby endangering her low rate. In addition, she said Perpetual declined to refund $1,271 that she paid at the time of her application, despite being unable to meet her settlement date.
Robbins said she offered to find an appraisal firm to quicken the loan process, but Perpetual rejected the offer.
Jeff Pulford, Perpetual's branch manager in Gaithersburg, said after a Washington Post inquiry into the matter, "We should have everything settled before her commitment expires." He added that Robbins' $1,271 would be refunded if she does not want to close with Perpetual.
Pulford, like other lenders interviewed, said the delays don't rest solely with mortgage lenders, but also with consumers, appraisers and credit reporting firms.
Thomas J. Owen, chairman of Perpetual American Bank, agreed, adding, "Everybody's doing the best they can, but the system was never geared to handle this volume."
Alan T. Fell, the commissioner of consumer credit at the Maryland Department of Licensure and Regulation in Baltimore, just one state agency that has been receiving complaints over the lost loan commitments, said consumers must become more aggressive with their lenders.
"It's a lenders' market," said Fell. Shopping for the lowest rate "is the only thing that the consumer can do to keep the competition."