Fewer homeowners qualify for lower refinance rates

Recent drops in interest rates have homeowners rushing to call local banks and mortgage lenders about refinancing. Loan applications are pouring in.

Yet, South Florida homeowners are mostly getting a big fat "No!" from the bank when they ask to refinance. The chief reason: Falling home values mean they owe more than their homes are worth.

"We got 53 calls to my branch on Friday," said Todd LaPenta, a private mortgage banker at Wells Fargo on Lincoln Road in South Beach. "We could only help about five."

Average rates for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage fell to 5.14 percent on Wednesday, the lowest level since 1971, reported Freddie Mac, the government-controlled mortgage giant. The number of people applying for mortgages rose by 50 percent last week, the Mortgage Bankers Association also reported.

It's another painful irony of living in one of the nation's worst hit housing markets – borrowers who owe more than their homes are worth cannot refinance without ponying up thousands of dollars in cash to cover the difference between the old and new loan amounts.

And they're the ones in most dire need.

In South Florida, four in 10 homeowners who bought or refinanced over the past five years owe more on their home than it is worth, according to sales and mortgage data analyzed by, a web-based real estate services firm. Many of them chose adjustable-rate loans and other expensive mortgages because that was the only way they could afford the payments.

To read the complete column, visit The Miami Herald .