California borrowers are ending their love affair with adjustable-rate mortgages, according to a recent study.
DataQuick Information Systems, La Jolla, Calif., found that 22% of California homebuyers in January funded their purchases with adjustable- rate loans, down from 24.5% in December and 56.3% in January 1995.
Borrowers tend to choose fixed-rate loans when interest rates are relatively low, to lock in the rate for the long haul. The current low-rate environment makes fixed-rate loans attractive even to Californians, who have been hard-core devotees of adjustables.
Even thrifts, which have long specialized in adjustables and are a major influence on the California market, have begun to offer a wider variety of rate options.
A spokeswoman at H.F. Ahmanson & Co., Irwindale, Calif., said the loans in the pipeline at its thrift, Home Savings, were weighted toward fixed- rate products. In the fourth quarter of 1995, 63% of funded loans were adjustable, down from 99% in the fourth quarter of 1994.
"We have become a more aggressive fixed-rate lender. We want to offer the customer whatever loan they want," she said. "We started to be more competitive with fixed rates in the last year."
Great Western Bank, Chatsworth, Calif., has gradually expanded its range of mortgage products during the last few years, according to Sam Lyons, senior vice president.
In February, 60% of Great Western's production was adjustable loans. Last year, ARMs accounted for 95% of fundings, Mr. Lyons said.
"Several years ago we realized we had to be an ARM portfolio lender and a fixed-rate mortgage banker" to keep up with the stiff competition, Mr. Lyons said.
Tom O'Donnell, a mortgage analyst at Smith Barney, said adjustable-rate loans gained popularity in California in the 1980s, when real estate prices soared. Adjustable loans helped borrowers qualify for more expensive houses than they could have using fixed-rate loans.
With a relatively flat yield curve - a small difference between short- term and long-term interest rates - and low interest rates, there is little reason for a borrower to use an adjustable-rate loan, according to another analyst.
"ARMs are more popular in California than anywhere else, but now they're falling off everywhere," Mr. O'Donnell said. "Even in California, people want fixed rates now."
The transient population in California adds to the appeal of adjustable loans there, Mr. Lyons at Great Western said. A homeowner who will be in a house for only a couple of years can get a loan with a low rate for that period of time. By the time the loan adjusts to a higher rate, the homeowner is ready to sell the house.
Mr. Lyons said, "The key is to be prepared to offer all types and not be one-dimensional. Those days are gone. If you don't offer a variety of loans, you're not competitive."