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Alabama industry appointments update - 8/23/2007

National Mortgage Professional
Aug 22, 2007

Tough new rules limit refinancing optionsPeter G. Millersub-prime, adjustable-rate mortgage, foreclosure, Freddie Mac Imagine driving along the highway. You run over some glass, and a tire goes flat. It's no problem, because there's a spare in the trunk. For the past several years, real estate buyers have had a financial spare tire--a backup system that was always there if times got tough. But now that spare tire is about to disappear in a vanishing act that will surprise some borrowers and bankrupt others. What happened? The "smart" play in real estate between 2001 and 2006 was to buy as much property as possible, finance with little or nothing down and then make the smallest allowable monthly payments. Such a strategy made sense in a world where home values "always" rose and lenders provided ideal forms of financing, loans where initial monthly payments equaled no more than the cost of interest and sometimes less. But now the game has changed. Freddie Mac, a major buyer and packager of mortgages, has announced that starting in September, it will substantially change the way it purchases sub-prime adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs). From this point forward, loans with little money down and tiny payments up front are going to be much tougher to get. Freddie Mac will not buy sub-prime loans unless the borrower is qualified to pay for the loan at its fully indexed and fully amortizing rate and not merely an upfront and low-ball "teaser" rate. Freddie Mac will require stronger proof of financial capacity. For most borrowers, this will mean showing tax returns and W-2 forms. Freddie Mac wants sub-prime lenders to collect money each month to ensure that property taxes and insurance are being paid. "Right now," said Jim Saccacio, chairman and CEO of RealtyTrac.com, "the new Freddie Mac standards apply only to sub-prime loans--mortgages used to finance borrowers with high-risk credit records. However, the potential for excess risk also exists for loans for more qualified borrowers. The result is that borrowers in every credit category would be smart to assume that mortgage standards are about to tighten throughout the marketplace." Freddie Mac's rules are important, because they create big profits for lenders. Freddie Mac buys loans from lenders--lots of loans. According to The New York Times, the company has purchased sub-prime loans totaling $184 billion (see "Freddie Mac Tightens Standards," Feb. 28, 2007). The catch is that Freddie Mac only wants loans that meet its standards. If you're a lender, you want to meet the requirements of Freddie Mac and other mortgage buyers, because then your loans can be quickly sold. Once sold, the cash you receive can be used to create new loans, new fees and new profits. While the new Freddie Mac standards will plainly impact new borrowers, the real marketplace worry concerns those who now have loans, but will need to refinance in the next few years. Between 2001 and 2006, millions of properties were financed with interest-only and option ARM financing, loans that allowed borrowers to make low monthly payments during initial start periods--the first few years of the loan. Borrowers with such financing know (or should know) that once initial start periods end, the loans can only be continued with far higher monthly payments--in some cases, payments that will double. Despite the potentially bankrupting impact of such larger monthly payments, most borrowers did not worry, and with some reason. As start periods ended, properties could be refinanced so borrowers could get another few years of low monthly payments. Now, however, the ground rules have changed. First, if the original loan was obtained with a stated-income mortgage application that contained, shall we say, generous and unchecked income estimates, new applications would demand verifications and proof. Without evidence of real income, borrowers would be unable to refinance. Second, if the original loan application were obtained with a full-documentation application that had every number checked and verified, the borrower would still have to meet new and tougher qualification standards to refinance. In practical terms, suppose buyer Dixon qualified to borrow $200,000 in 2005. Though he now has the same income and credit, and can document everything, his loan application will be judged on his ability to pay the real monthly cost of the loan and not just a payment based on an upfront teaser rate. What's the result? It may be that he can only borrow $175,000 in 2007. This means Dixon cannot refinance unless he can also pay down a substantial chunk of his existing debt in cash ($25,000, in this example). Without the additional cash, Dixon is effectively locked into his existing loan, the very loan that he doesn't want to pay or perhaps can't afford to pay once the start period ends. For some borrowers, the new rules mean existing loans--especially recent loans--cannot be refinanced. Unfortunately, the alternatives to refinancing may also be unworkable because larger payments may be unaffordable. In slowing markets, homes may not sell at a profit and rents may be insufficient to cover monthly mortgage costs. For too many borrowers, it will no longer be possible to delay mortgage problems by refinancing, an option that could have prevented foreclosure and bankruptcy. Are the new standards too harsh? Did Freddie Mac do the right thing? "Freddie Mac," said Saccacio, "deserves credit for being the first to make a terribly tough choice. It's the right decision--one that will be painful now, but a strategy which will ultimately result in far fewer foreclosures, a reduced number of lender failures and smaller investor losses." Peter G. Miller is the author of "The Common-Sense Mortgage" and is syndicated in more than 90 newspapers. He may be reached at (301) 593-0970 or e-mail [email protected]
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