Money’s Top Picks
Florida has received the most movers from other states for five consecutive years, according to U.S. Census Bureau data through 2018. Balmy weather year-round and no state income tax are some of the main reasons Florida is such a popular destination. As such, home purchases in the Sunshine State have soared in recent years. In 2018, the number of purchase originations in Florida increased 5.54% to 334,937 worth over $84 billion.
Like other tourism driven economies, Florida was hit particularly hard by the 2008 financial crisis and unemployment in the state has skyrocketed due to the coronavirus pandemic. In 2012, one out of every 32 homes faced foreclosure, which was double the national average. Home prices in the state fell to a median sale price of $107,000 in March 2011 but have risen steadily to a high of $247,000 in February 2020, before the effects of the pandemic were widely felt in the U.S.
This means investing a home in Florida can be risky, but can pay off for buyers with funds and patience. This is especially true with mortgage rates near all-time lows.
It’s enticing to think about a beachfront condo in Fort Lauderdale or a ranch-style house in Jacksonville, but potential home buyers should also remember that Florida is prone to natural disasters such as hurricanes and tornadoes. While this fact doesn’t necessarily affect mortgage rates in Florida, it does raise other home-related costs such as home insurance premiums. These additional costs make it that much more important to find the best mortgage rates and save some money.
Nearly one-third of Florida’s purchase originations for 2018 were either Federal Housing Administration or Veterans Administration loans. That made us focus our search for the best mortgage lenders in Florida on lenders that offer these loan types. Nonetheless, we also looked at lenders that offered conventional, jumbo and USDA loans.
From Pensacola to Key West, here are our top picks for best mortgage lenders in Florida.
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Quicken Loans: Best Customer Experience
Quicken is an industry leader in almost all respects. Quicken’s number of originations, reputation for customer service, and robust online experience puts it at or near the top of every category. For exactly these reasons, we chose Quicken as one of the best mortgage lenders in Florida.
We use JD Power’s Primary Mortgage Origination Satisfaction Study to help us determine which lenders provide quality customer service. JD Power analyzes each lender’s application and approval process, communication, loan closing, and loan offerings. Quicken is rated “Among the Best” in the study, and has consistently ranked near the top in previous years. Customers also filed substantially fewer complaints about the company with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau than about other lenders of the same size.
According to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s report on originations, Quicken ranks first in total number of originations, as well as ranking first in FHA loans and second in VA loans. This is relevant when considering the state of Florida, since more than 30% of originations in the state are either FHA or VA loans.
That’s not to say that Quicken only offers these types of mortgages. As with most major lenders, the company offers 15- and 30-year fixed mortgages, adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs), jumbo and USDA loans, and others. One unique feature is Quicken’s YOURgage program, which lets the borrower choose the term between eight and 30 years for their fixed-rate mortgage and allows well-qualified first-time homebuyers to put as little as 3% down (if they pay for private mortgage insurance).
Quicken also excels in the online experience, making the process convenient for borrowers who prefer to take care of things without stepping outside. For this purpose, Quicken has implemented new technologies such as electronic signatures and digitized documents that minimize in-person processes. This is especially relevant during the coronavirus pandemic.
LoanDepot: Best for FHA Loans
LoanDepot ranks sixth in total mortgage originations, according to MBA. The company is second only to Quicken in the number of FHA loans they originate. Additionally, the company is sixth in VA loans.
With their Mello Smartloan product, LoanDepot can digitally verify income, employment and asset information, as well as perform a credit check. Their loan officers can determine whether borrowers qualify for appraisal waivers, in some cases shortening the closing process by “up to 17 days”. For borrowers looking to purchase a house quickly, LoanDepot has the tools to get the keys in your hand as fast as possible. They also consider alternate data for self-employed individuals when evaluating their mortgage applications.
Although JD Power rated them “About Average” in customer satisfaction, LoanDepot provides options for borrowers who like to do everything electronically as well as those who want a face-to-face experience. Apart from digital services, LoanDepot also has over 200 physical locations nationwide.
Veterans United: Best for VA Loans
Veterans United is the nation’s number one VA loan originator, completing over $12 billion in mortgages in 2019. As such, they are uniquely qualified to guide prospective borrowers in Florida who wish to apply for such a loan.
Their customer service is among the finest in the country, according to JD Power’s rating of “Among the Best.” Though Veterans United only has physical branches in 18 states (in fact, the only Florida office is in Tampa), they do provide an engaging and user-friendly online experience.
Veterans United’s website contains an extensive education section, with a home buying guide, informational videos and multiple calculators. These tools and resources are especially useful for first-time homebuyers.
Further, Veterans United offers their Lighthouse Program to service members that are unable to get prequalified for a VA loan. The free service connects them to credit consultants that can help identify and correct errors in credit reports, help strengthen their credit profile, and develop strategies to pay down debt.
How We Picked the Best Mortgage Lenders in Florida
When we began to look for the best mortgage lenders in Florida, we based our search on our already established methodology for the Best Mortgage Lenders of 2020.
We gathered data from the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) regarding loan originations. Their report contained information on loans issued per state and per lender, as well as the average loan amounts and types of loans. We also used the VA’s 2019 list of lenders by loan volume.
Since Florida has a higher percentage of FHA and VA loans than the national average, we placed additional importance on lenders that excelled in those two types of loans and not necessarily the companies that had the highest volume of loans.
Therefore, the size of the lender was just one of several factors. Apart from the MBA’s originations report, we looked at JD Power’s 2019 U.S. Primary Mortgage Origination Satisfaction Study. The study measures overall customer satisfaction, especially as it pertains to the application, approval and closing process, communication, and product offerings.
While the study doesn’t intend to describe every borrower’s experience with a lender, the findings do provide average customer perceptions of the lenders and loan products.
We also looked at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) mortgage lender complaints and any regulatory actions against lenders as reported by the Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System (NMLS). Companies with a high volume of complaints in relation to their mortgage volume or with serious disciplinary or enforcement actions were not considered for inclusion.
To this end, we focused on three comprehensive categories: the product offering, the customer experience and the lender’s reputation and transparency.
We looked at companies that presented a host of mortgage options, such as conventional and non-conventional, fixed- and adjustable-rate, varying term lengths, and government-backed loans. Although all types of loans were examined, for Florida we gave extra attention to companies that offered FHA and VA loans.
A company can have competitive rates, a large market share, and an abundance of product offerings, but their customer experience is equally important, if not more so.
A good customer experience should include readily accessible customer support via phone, chat, email, or branch. It should also include a user-friendly internet platform with tools and resources that help borrowers navigate the home buying process. Any additional help a company provides, such as considering alternative data during the approval process, can go a long way to maintaining a happy customer.
We focused on lenders that could offer a streamlined application process and quick closings, features that have gained further importance during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Reputation & Transparency
CFPB complaints and regulatory actions reported by the NMLS were our main tools to determine a lender’s industry standing.