Expensive mortgages on the horizon

Owning a home takes work. Soon, it will cost more too. In response to a crippling financial crisis, sweeping changes were established in the mortgage industry to not only stabilize the crippled financial sector of the housing market, but to also to temporarily provide access to credit in an all but frozen credit market. Now that the temporary stop gaps are coming to an end, will private investors make home mortgages more expensive or will Congress bow to housing trade groups to extend current interventions?

Since the increase of FHA mortgage down payments to 3.5% a few years ago, there has been talk of increasing it further to 5%. The move comes at a time when mortgage assistance programs are winding down and reliance on FHA mortgages to refinance underwater home owners is diminishing. Concerns over FHA reserves prompted higher annual FHA mortgage insurance premiums and, of course, also elicited calls to increase FHA mortgage down payments to 5%.

Of course, while some look for a solid FHA mortgage down payment increase, some look to future decreases. H.R. 1977: FHA Reform Act of 2011 (introduced May 24th which has been currently referred to committee) creates the position of “Deputy Assistant Secretary of FHA for Risk Management and Regulatory Affairs,” whose job would be, among other things, to review down payment requirements.

Besides the push for increased FHA down payments, the FHA maximum loan amount is set to decrease in October of this year. Temporarily increased to $729,750, FHA loan limits will revert to those set by the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (HERA). Unless Congress acts on maintaining the current FHA loan limits, HUD states that 669 of the 3,334 counties or county equivalents that are eligible for FHA insured mortgages will be affected. In “high cost” areas, such as Montgomery County, the maximum FHA loan limit will be reduced to $625,500 (“Potential Changes to FHA Single-Family Loan Limits…A Market Analysis Brief; hud.gov).

In addition to changes in FHA mortgages, conforming loans (mortgages that conform to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac guidelines) will also change. October 2011 is also when the maximum conforming loan limits will revert to those established by HERA, as stated in a May 26th release from the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA is the oversight agency for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Federal Home Loan Banks). Although the new loan limit will not differ from the current amount in a majority of regions, FHFA estimates that 250 counties or county equivalents will be affected. The maximum conforming loan limit for “high cost” areas, such as Montgomery County, will also be reduced to $625,500.

Although the current FHA and conforming loan limits were temporary, housing trade associations have warned about possible effects of reverting to lower mortgage limits on an unstable real estate market. Both the National Association of Realtors and National Association of Home Builders have commented on the imminent changes and have called on Congress to make the temporary changes permanent.http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif

Recent government interventions in the housing market may have been necessary but they were intended to be temporary. Continued intervention may continue to allow “lower cost” mortgages for some home buyers, but some have warned against maintaining the temporary stop gaps because it hinders private investors from entering the housing market as well as the possibility of artificially inflating housing prices.

by Dan Krell

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