President Signs Historic Housing Legislation

by Dan Krell

The lack of fanfare over the signing of The Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 on July 30th by President Bush was the anticlimax of the long Congressional battle of proposed housing legislation. The long awaited and highly anticipated legislation is historic for its wide reaching changes in the mortgage and housing industries as well as foreclosure assistance.

For the mortgage industry, the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 changes how the Government Sponsored Entities (GSE’s), FHA and VA will conduct their mortgage businesses. In addition to the recent loan limit increases ($625,000 for conforming mortgages and $625,000 for FHA loans in high cost areas) becoming permanent for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and FHA, the new law will increase oversight and offer more options and protections to home buyers.

For the GSEs (which include Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Federal Home Loan Banks), the new law provides temporary assistance to the financially beleaguered Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from the United States Treasury in the form of discount loans to help stabilize the mortgage giants. Additionally, a new and “independent” regulator to oversee the GSEs will act like a federal regulator to ensure that the GSEs are financially stable.

The new law includes the FHA Modernization Act of 2008, which gives the venerable government insured mortgage a face lift. There have not been such significant changes to FHA since its inception in 1934. Among the many changes, FHA will have a more streamlined process, increase the down payment to 3.5% of the purchase price, bar down payment assistance programs, and require home ownership counseling for home buyers.

The new law seeks to prevent mortgage fraud by launching efforts to license all mortgage originators. Although many states now require mortgage originators to be licensed, the new law will focus on those originators who are exempt from current laws (which typically include mortgage originators who are employed by federally chartered banks).

New mortgage disclosure requirements expand the Truth In Lending Act (TILA) to require lenders to provide meaningful information to consumers about their loans. The time frame will be three days from application and seven days before settlement. This is meant to allow consumers to compare mortgage rates and terms within a reasonable time frame.

Home buyers who purchase a home between April 9, 2008 and June 30, 2009 will have the opportunity to qualify for a tax credit which is repayable over fifteen years. However, the credit is limited to ten percent (up to $7,500) of the purchase price of a principal residence, and only for first time home buyers who meet income restrictions. Other restrictions apply, so you should consult your accountant for additional information.

For home owners facing foreclosure, the new legislation includes the HOPE for Homeowners Act of 2008. The program will allow the home owner’s present mortgage be refinanced through FHA. However among other qualifications, the program requires the home owner’s present lender to agree to accept losses to 85% of appraised value of home.

To the average person, these sweeping changes may seem dull and unimportant; many remain critical of the new legislation. However, because the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 is so wide reaching, it is truly historic.

This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of August 4, 2008. Copyright © 2008 Dan Krell.