Analysis Blames Slow Recovery on Tight Credit Market

Daily Real Estate News |      Monday, September 17, 2012

High lending standards are preventing a full economic recovery, according to new survey findings and an analysis of historic credit scores and loan performance by the National Association of REALTORS®. The group estimates that the U.S. economy would reap significant benefits if mortgage lending conditions were to return to normal.

“Sensible lending standards would permit 500,000 to 700,000 additional home sales in the coming year,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun.  “The economic activity created through these additional home sales would add 250,000 to 350,000 jobs in related trades and services almost immediately, and without a cost impact.”

This view appears to be shared by real estate professionals as well. According to the REALTORS® Confidence Index, based on more than 3,000 responses by NAR members, there is widespread concern over the tight credit conditions for residential mortgages.  Respondents report that lenders are slow to approve applications, and that banks request information from borrowers that is considered to be excessive.

Some expressed the belief that lenders are focusing only on loans to individuals with the highest credit scores. The survey found that 53 percent of loans in August went to borrowers with credit scores above 740.  From 2001 to 2004, only 41 percent of loans backed by Fannie Mae went to borrowers with FICO scores above 740, while 43 percent of Freddie Mac-backed loans went to such borrowers. In 2011, about 75 percent of total loans purchased by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which are now a smaller market share, had credit scores of 740 or above.

Yun said the financial industry has not recognized that the market has turned in the wake of an over-correction in home prices.

“There is an unnecessarily high level of risk aversion among mortgage lenders and regulators, although many are sitting on large volumes of cash which could go a long way toward speeding our economic recovery. A loosening of the overly restrictive lending standards is very much in order,” he said.

Yun added that lenders’ high aversion to risk was unnecessary because default rates have been abnormally low since 2009.  Fannie Mae default rates have averaged 0.2 percent while Freddie Mac’s averaged 0.1 percent. The association deemed such rates especially notable due to higher-than-usual unemployment levels.

“These findings show we need to return to the sound underwriting standards that existed before the aberrations of the housing boom and bust cycle, and thoroughly re-examine current and impending regulatory rules that may cause excessively tight standards,” Yun said.

Source: “Home Sales and Job Creation would Rise with Sensible Lending Standards,” National Association of REALTORS® (Sept. 17, 2012)

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August Existing-Home Sales and Prices Rise

WASHINGTON (September 19, 2012) – Existing-home sales continued to improve in August and the national median price rose on a year-over-year basis for the sixth straight month, according to the National Association of Realtors®.

Total existing-home sales 1 , which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, rose 7.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.82 million in August from 4.47 million in July, and are 9.3 percent higher than the 4.41 million-unit level in August 2011.

Lawrence Yun , NAR chief economist, said favorable buying conditions get the credit. “The housing market is steadily recovering with consistent increases in both home sales and median prices. More buyers are taking advantage of excellent housing affordability conditions,” he said. “Inventories in many parts of the country are broadly balanced, favoring neither sellers nor buyers. However, the West and Florida markets are experiencing inventory shortages, which are placing pressure on prices.”

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage rose to 3.60 percent in August from a record low 3.55 percent in July; the rate was 4.27 percent in August 2011.

“The strengthening housing market is occurring even with difficult mortgage qualifying conditions, which is testament to the sizable stored-up housing demand that accumulated in the past five years,” Yun added.

The national median existing-home price2 for all housing types was $187,400 in August, up 9.5 percent from a year ago. The last time there were six back-to-back monthly price increases from a year earlier was from December 2005 to May 2006. The August increase was the strongest since January 2006 when the median price rose 10.2 percent from a year earlier.

Distressed homes3 – foreclosures and short sales sold at deep discounts – accounted for 22 percent of August sales (12 percent were foreclosures and 10 percent were short sales), down from 24 percent in July and 31 percent in August 2011. Foreclosures sold for an average discount of 19 percent below market value in August, while short sales were discounted 13 percent.

Total housing inventory at the end August rose 2.9 percent to 2.47 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 6.1-month supply 4 at the current sales pace, down from a 6.4-month supply in July. Listed inventory is 18.2 percent below a year ago when there was an 8.2-month supply.

The median time on market was 70 days in August, consistent with 69 days in July but down 23.9 percent from 92 days in August 2011. Thirty-two percent of homes sold in August were on the market for less than a month, while 19 percent were on the market for six months or longer.

NAR President Moe Veissi , broker-owner of Veissi & Associates Inc., in Miami, said some buyers are involuntarily sidelined. “Total sales this year will be 8 to 10 percent above 2011, but some buyers are frustrated with mortgage availability. If most of the financially qualified buyers could obtain financing, home sales would be about 10 to 15 percent stronger, and the related economic activity would create several hundred thousand jobs over the period of a year.”

First-time buyers accounted for 31 percent of purchasers in August, down from 34 percent in July; they were 32 percent in August 2011.

All-cash sales were unchanged at 27 percent of transactions in August; they were 29 percent in August 2011. Investors, who account for most cash sales, purchased 18 percent of homes in August, up from 16 percent in July; they were 22 percent in August 2011.

Single-family home sales rose 8.0 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.30 million in August from 3.98 million in July, and are 10.0 percent above the 3.91 million-unit pace in August 2011. The median existing single-family home price was $188,700 in August, up 10.2 percent from a year ago.

Existing condominium and co-op sales increased 6.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 520,000 in August from 490,000 in July, and are 4.0 percent above the 500,000-unit level a year ago. The median existing condo price was $176,700 in August, which is 3.3 percent higher than August 2011.

Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast rose 8.6 percent to an annual pace of 630,000 in August and are also 8.6 percent above August 2011. The median price in the Northeast was $245,200, up 0.6 percent from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the Midwest increased 7.7 percent in August to a level of 1.12 million and are 17.9 percent higher than a year ago. The median price in the Midwest was $152,400, up 7.8 percent from August 2011.

In the South, existing-home sales rose 7.3 percent to an annual pace of 1.90 million in August and are 11.1 percent above August 2011. The median price in the region was $160,100, up 6.5 percent from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the West increased 8.3 percent to an annual level of 1.17 million in August but are unchanged from a year ago. With ongoing inventory shortages, the median price in the West was $242,000, which is 16.3 percent higher than August 2011.

The National Association of Realtors®, “The Voice for Real Estate,” is America’s largest trade association, representing 1 million members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries.

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HARP Changes Are Coming This Spring

The Federal Housing Finance Agency recently announced changes to the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) that will allow more borrowers to refinance and take advantage of historically low mortgage rates.

These changes to HARP (often referred to as HARP 2.0) are set to rollout this spring. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are currently updating their automated loan underwriting software. This is due to be completed in March 2012.

Some enhancements to HARP include:

  • Removing the 125% loan-to-value (LTV) ceiling on fixed-rate mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac when the automated underwriting software is updated eliminates the need for a new property appraisal. Depending on occupancy type, Prospect’s current LTV ceiling is between 105% and 125% with any HARP 2.0 LTV limitations forthcoming.
  • Eliminating certain risk-based fees for borrowers who refinance into shorter-term mortgages.
  • Extending the end date for HARP until on or before December 31, 2013.

HARP borrowers must meet the following criteria:

  • The mortgage must have been owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac on or before May 31, 2009.
  • The mortgage cannot have been refinanced under HARP previously unless it’s a Fannie Mae loan that was refinanced under HARP from March 2009 to May 2009.
  • The current LTV ratio must be greater than 80%.
  • Borrowers must be current on their mortgage payments with no late payment in the previous 12 months to 24 months, depending on the LTV.

Owner-occupied, secondary residences and investment properties may be considered for HARP refinancing. There are many HARP refinancing scenarios available.

from Prospect Mortgage Industry Insider

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FHA will keep funding flips

For the second year in a row, the Federal Housing Administration is extending a temporary waiver of its “anti-flipping” rule, meaning homebuyers relying on FHA-insured financing will continue to be able to buy homes that have changed hands in the last 90 days.

The waiver is a boon for investors seeking to rehab and flip properties, because it expands the pool of eligible borrowers to include those relying on FHA-backed loans, popular with first-time homebuyers and others who lack the cash to make large down payments.

In extending the waiver through 2012, FHA said all transactions must continue to be arms-length. In cases in which the sales price of the property is 20 percent or more above the seller’s acquisition cost, the waiver will apply only if the lender can document the justification for the increase in value, FHA said.

FHA instituted the anti-flipping rule in 2003 to protect its mutual mortgage insurance program from losses on homes that were merely flipped, rather than rehabbed. Homes repossessed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and state- and federally chartered financial institutions were exempt from the rule.

In February 2010, the Obama administration waived the waiting period for resales — including homes purchased and rehabbed by private investors — in the hopes of stabilizing home prices and revitalizing communities hit by foreclosures.

It often takes less than 90 days to acquire, rehabilitate and sell properties, the Department of Housing and Urban Development said at the time. Some sellers of rehabbed properties had been reluctant to enter into contracts with FHA buyers because of the cost of holding a property for 90 days, HUD said.

In extending the waiver through 2011, FHA said it insured 21,000 90-day property flip loans worth more than $3.6 billion in 2010 that would otherwise not have qualified for financing.

That number has since grown to nearly 42,000 mortgages worth more than $7 billion on properties resold within 90 days of acquisition.

By Inman News, Wednesday, December 28, 2011.

Inman News®

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Mortgage rates rebound from all-time lows

Mortgage rates surveyed by Freddie Mac bounced back from historic lows this week, but aren’t expected to soar in the New Year.

Rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 3.95 percent with an average 0.7 point for the week ending Dec. 29. That’s up from 3.91 percent last week — an all-time low in records dating to 1971 — but still well below the 2011 high of 5.05 percent seen in February.

The 30-year fixed-rate loan has averaged at or below 4 percent for the past nine consecutive weeks, Freddie Mac noted in releasing the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey.

Rates for 15-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 3.24 percent with an average 0.8 point. That’s up from 3.21 percent last week, an all-time low in records dating to 1991, but down from the 2011 high of 4.29 percent registered in February.

For 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) loans, rates averaged 2.88 percent with an average 0.6 point. That’s up from 2.85 percent last week, an all-time low in records dating to 2005, but down more than 1 percentage point from the 2011 high of 3.92 percent seen in February.

Rates on 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM loans averaged 2.78 percent with an average 0.6 point. That’s up from 2.77 percent last week, an all-time low in records dating to 1984, but  down from a 2011 high of 3.4 percent in February.

Freddie Mac’s rate survey is based on loans offered to borrowers with good credit scores who will be making down payments of at least 20 percent. Borrowers with damaged credit or making smaller down payments can expect to pay higher rates.

Mortgage rates are largely determined by demand for mortgage-backed securities (MBS), bonds that fund the vast majority of home loans.

The Federal Reserve helped push mortgage rates down in 2009 and 2010 by buying $1.25 trillion in MBS. Since then, the European debt crisis has helped keep mortgage rates down, as investors seek the relative safety of government-backed mortgage bonds, whose payments are guaranteed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Ginnie Mae.

In a Dec. 20 forecast, economists at Fannie Mae project that rates for fixed-rate mortgages will average 4.0 percent in 2012 and 4.3 percent in 2013, down from 4.5 percent this year and 5 percent in 2009.

The Mortgage Bankers Association predicts rates on 30-year fixed-rate loans will average 4.2 percent in 2012 before rising to 4.7 percent in 2013. The National Association of Realtors projects rates on 30-year fixed-rate loans will hold steady at 4.5 percent in 2012.

By Inman News, Thursday, December 29, 2011.

Inman News®

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FHA will keep funding flips

For the second year in a row, the Federal Housing Administration is extending a temporary waiver of its “anti-flipping” rule, meaning homebuyers relying on FHA-insured financing will continue to be able to buy homes that have changed hands in the last 90 days.

The waiver is a boon for investors seeking to rehab and flip properties, because it expands the pool of eligible borrowers to include those relying on FHA-backed loans, popular with first-time homebuyers and others who lack the cash to make large down payments.

In extending the waiver through 2012, FHA said all transactions must continue to be arms-length. In cases in which the sales price of the property is 20 percent or more above the seller’s acquisition cost, the waiver will apply only if the lender can document the justification for the increase in value, FHA said.

FHA instituted the anti-flipping rule in 2003 to protect its mutual mortgage insurance program from losses on homes that were merely flipped, rather than rehabbed. Homes repossessed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and state- and federally chartered financial institutions were exempt from the rule.

In February 2010, the Obama administration waived the waiting period for resales — including homes purchased and rehabbed by private investors — in the hopes of stabilizing home prices and revitalizing communities hit by foreclosures.

It often takes less than 90 days to acquire, rehabilitate and sell properties, the Department of Housing and Urban Development said at the time. Some sellers of rehabbed properties had been reluctant to enter into contracts with FHA buyers because of the cost of holding a property for 90 days, HUD said.

In extending the waiver through 2011, FHA said it insured 21,000 90-day property flip loans worth more than $3.6 billion in 2010 that would otherwise not have qualified for financing.

That number has since grown to nearly 42,000 mortgages worth more than $7 billion on properties resold within 90 days of acquisition.

By Inman News, Wednesday, December 28, 2011.

Inman News®

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Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Update

In September 2008, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — two government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) that facilitate residential lending in the U.S. — were financially rescued by the U.S. government and placed into conservatorship with the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA).

This crisis swayed Congress to gradually reduce the role of Fannie and Freddie in the U.S. housing market. The House of Representatives’ Capital Markets and Government Sponsored Enterprises Subcommittee recently approved a series of bills toward this end.

The legislation seeks to hold Fannie and Freddie to the same standards as any other mortgage market participant with regard to risk retention rules. Cumulatively, the legislation will suspend the compensation packages for executives and place all other employees on a government pay scale; reduce the size of their loan portfolios; gradually increase the fee requirements; and end the companies’ mandates to back mortgages for lower-income people. These bills will now be sent to the House Financial Services Committee in the House of Representatives.

The Treasury Department has also issued a list of recommendations for Fannie and Freddie. These include three options:

  1. Limit tax payer exposure to risks in the mortgage market and relegate the government to more narrowly targeted loan programs, such as the FHA and VA.
  2. Develop a “backstop mechanism” to ensure homeowners had access to credit during a crises.
  3. Have a group of private companies provide guarantees on mortgage securities with the Treasury providing reinsurance on these securities.

Analysts believe comprehensive reform of the two GSEs will be years in the making. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said whatever plan Congress chooses, it would take between five and seven years to implement.

– From Prospect Mortgage Industry Insider

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