Newmans Own

Lend Me Your Ears

This just in: Or rather

this just on

, as in on the market. It’s not yellow and it doesn’t have a porch, but Nora and Joe and I plan to look at it this morning. Maybe our visit will be the occasion for Joe’s maiden blog voyage.

But before we get there, I couldn’t let

this comment

pass without comment. “Bebette,” who says she is a real-estate agent, chastises us for not having talked to a lender. “Only a lender can answer the question, ‘How much can I buy?’” she says.

A lot of what is wrong with real-estate agents, and a lot of what went wrong with the housing market, can be found in those 12 words. Too many real-estate agents told too many clients that this mortgage lender could help them afford this house, and too many banks relied on mortgage brokers’ assurances to make the loans, and too many investment banks relied on banks saying these assets were valuable, and too many investors relied on investment banks saying these securities were safe…. I think we all know what happened here. This remains

the single best explanation

I’ve seen of how we got into this mess.

The reason to talk to a lender is not to find out how much we can buy. We know that already: how much we can put down, how much we can afford to pay per month, what our credit reports say and what kind of interest rate we’re likely to get. Maybe I’m being naïve, or maybe I’m being blasé—or maybe both! a dangerous combination!—but I am confident that we will be able to get a loan at a pretty good rate. A lot of these details cannot be worked out until there is an actual house involved anyway.

All this said, as I mentioned, I did talk to a mortgage broker the other day. One of the points he made was that the standard “pre-qualified” letter, which Bebette suggested we get, is pretty useless in today’s market. Back in the Bubble Era, practically all you needed to get a mortgage was a letter from Ed McMahon saying

you may already be a winner

. Banks today are slightly more cautious.

There is one advantage to talking to a lender, of course: Now I can tell Denise—and Bebette—that I have talked to a lender.