Homeowners looking to refinance their mortgages better have their paperwork in order. And it helps to be nice.

With rates near historic lows as the coronavirus roils markets, lenders are swamped with business from homeowners seeking to take advantage of cheaper borrowing costs.

They’re raising rates to discourage customers, pumping the brakes on marketing campaigns and capping the amount loan officers can lend. Good luck getting someone on the phone — especially if you’re not courteous.

“If you’re difficult, a negotiator, or a grinder, they’re probably not going to call you back,” said Brian Koss, executive vice president at Massachusetts-based Mortgage Network, whose firm received more applications in four days last week than it typically receives in a month. “We’re sorting calls by who are my best customers, who’s on top of it, engaged, and giving me all their documents up front.”

As banks tried to curb the onslaught of new business, 30-year mortgage rates actually ticked up in recent days, reaching 3.36% after dipping to a record low of 3.29% last week.

The historically low rates have fueled unprecedented demand, making the industry a bright spot as the U.S. economy is battered by the expanding outbreak. Loan application records are being shattered at lenders such as United Wholesale Mortgage, Guild Mortgage and Quicken Loans, the nation’s largest mortgage lender. Internet searches for refinancing this month spiked to their highest levels in data going back to 2004, according to Google Trends data.


Last week, a measure of U.S. home-refinancing applications soared to the highest level since April 2009. Refinancing, which puts money back in the pockets of American homeowners, could help boost an economy that appears to be on the brink of recession.

For a typical 30-year, fixed-rate $250,000 mortgage, borrowers could save about $150 a month if they refinanced at 3.25% compared with what they were paying last year, said Tendayi Kapfidze, chief economist at online marketplace LendingTree.

The trouble now is getting the application through. Mortgage Network is so swamped that it’s struggling to return calls from customers looking to refinance. Instead, the firm is prioritizing mortgages for purchases. San Diego-based Guild, meanwhile, has stopped soliciting new refi clients.

At JPMorgan Chase & Co. mortgage application volume three times above average overwhelmed the bank’s systems last week, forcing the company to work through the weekend to deploy new computer servers to improve capacity and speed, according to a memo seen by Bloomberg and a person briefed on the matter. Managers apologized to home lending staff for “slowness.”

The bank has shifted workers to its mortgage group to deal with the extraordinary volume and is offering employees $5,000 for every new mortgage worker they can recruit, according to people familiar with the matter. And while other lenders have also gone on hiring sprees, some are now searching for ways to slow the business down.

Most mortgages eventually are sold to government-backed lenders, such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which then package those loans into bonds sold to investors. There’s a limit to investors’ appetite to own 30-year fixed-rate mortgages yielding 3% or less, said Koss.

“Everyone’s happy to see rates move higher because they can’t take any more applications,” Koss said. “We can’t even come close to returning all the calls.”

With assistance from Prashant Gopal and Lananh Nguyen.