FHA Announces Major Changes

February 5, 2013

From the Mortgage Bankers Association of America

HUD announced a new series of changes aimed at strengthening the troubled FHA Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund.

The steps include:

• Consolidation of FHA’s Home Equity Conversion Mortgage options;

• An additional 10 basis-point increase in FHA mortgage insurance premiums;

• Requiring borrowers to pay annual mortgage insurance premiums for the life of the loan;

• Requiring lenders to manually underwrite loans for which borrowers have a decision credit score below 620 and a total debt-to-income ratio greater than 43 percent;

• A proposed increased down payment requirement for mortgages with original principal balances above $625,500;

• Increased enforcement efforts for FHA-approved lenders regarding “aggressive” marketing to borrowers with previous foreclosures

“These are essential and appropriate measures to manage and protect FHA’s single-family insurance programs,” said FHA Commissioner Carol Galante. “In addition to protecting the MMI Fund, these changes will encourage the return of private capital to the housing market and make sure FHA remains a vital source of affordable and sustainable mortgage financing for future generations of American home buyers.”

The changes come in the wake of FHA’s most recent actuarial report on the MMIF. The December report said in fiscal 2012, the Fund’s capital reserve ratio fell below zero to negative 1.44 percent, well below its congressionally mandated 2 percent capital reserve ratio, while the Fund’s economic value fell to negative $16.3 billion.

The report cited continued losses stemming from FHA’s former practice of allowing down payment assistance programs, as well as losses from FHA’s Home Equity Mortgage Conversion program, also known as reverse mortgages and spurred concerns on Capitol Hill that FHA might have to ask the federal government for additional financial support. HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan in December said no such decision would take place until the Obama Administration submits its proposed fiscal 2014 budget in February.

A summary of FHA actions announced yesterday:

Home Equity Conversion Mortgage Consolidation. FHA said it will consolidate its Standard Fixed-Rate Home Equity Conversion Mortgage and Saver Fixed-Rate HECM pricing options, effective for FHA case numbers assigned on or after April 1. Galante noted the Fixed-Rate Standard HECM pricing option currently represents a “large majority” of the loans insured through FHA’s HECM program and is responsible for placing “significant stress” on the MMIF. 

“To help sustain the program as a viable financial resource for aging homeowners, the HECM Fixed-Rate Saver will be the only pricing option available to borrowers who seek a fixed interest rate mortgage,” FHA said. “Using the HECM Fixed-Rate Saver for fixed-rate mortgages will significantly lower the borrower’s upfront closing costs while permitting a smaller pay out than the HECM Fixed Rate Standard product, thereby reducing risks to the Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund.” 

Additional details can be found in a new HECM Mortgagee Letter: http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/documents/huddoc?id=13-01ml.pdf.

Changes to Mortgage Insurance Premiums. FHA said it will increase its annual mortgage insurance premium for most new mortgages by 10 basis points (0.10 percent) and will increase premiums on jumbo mortgages ($625,500 or larger) by 5 basis points or 0.05 percent. These premium increases exclude certain streamline refinance transactions. 

FHA will also require most FHA borrowers to continue paying annual premiums for the life of their mortgage loan, reversing a 2001 change in which FHA cancelled required MIP on loans when the outstanding principal balance reached 78 percent of the original principal balance. FHA acknowledged that it remained responsible for insuring 100 percent of the outstanding loan balance throughout the entire life of the loan, a term which often extends far beyond the cessation of these MIP payments. 

Galante said FHA’s Office of Risk Management and Regulatory Affairs estimated that the MMIF has foregone “billions of dollars” in premium revenue on mortgages endorsed from 2010 through 2012 because of this automatic cancellation policy.

“Therefore, FHA will once again collect premiums based upon the unpaid principal balance for the entire period for which FHA is entitled,” Galante said. “This will permit FHA to retain significant revenue that is currently being forfeited prematurely.”

Manual Underwriting Requirement on Loans with Decision Credit Scores below 620 & DTI Ratios Above 43 Percent. FHA will require lenders to manually underwrite loans for which borrowers have a decision credit score below 620 and a total debt-to-income ratio greater than 43 percent. Lenders will be required to document compensating factors that support the underwriting decision to approve loans where these parameters are exceeded, using FHA manual underwriting and compensating factor guidelines.

Raising Down Payment on Loans above $625,500. Through a Federal Register notice to be published in the next several days, FHA will announce a proposed increased down payment requirement for mortgages with original principal balances above $625,500. The minimum down payment for these mortgages will increase from 3.5 to 5 percent. 

“This change, coupled with the statutory maximum premiums charged for these loans, will help protect FHA and further facilitate its efforts to encourage higher levels of private market participation in the housing finance market,” FHA said.

Access to FHA after Foreclosure. FHA also announced it will step up its enforcement efforts for FHA-approved lenders regarding aggressive marketing to borrowers with previous foreclosures and remind lenders of their duty to fully underwrite loan applications. FHA also said it will work with other federal agencies to address such false advertising by non-FHA-approved entities. 

“It has come to FHA’s attention that a few lenders are inappropriately advertising and soliciting borrowers with the false pretense that they can somehow ‘automatically’ qualify for an FHA-insured mortgage three years after their foreclosure,” FHA said. “This is simply not true and such misleading advertising will not be tolerated.”

 

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CFPB Head Appointment In Jeopardy

January 30, 2013

Source: Weiner, Brodsky, Kider, PC

On Friday, January 25, 2013, the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit emphatically struck down President Obama’s January 2012 “recess appointments” of three members to the National Labor Relations Board. In doing so, the Court emphasized the narrow construction of the Constitution’s Recess Appointments Clause in a sweeping manner that is sure to bolster current challenges to Richard Cordray’s “recess appointment” as Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on the same day.

Generally, the Constitution requires Presidential Appointments to be confirmed with the “advice and consent” of the Senate. The Recess Appointments Clause provides the President with the power to appoint executive officers during times of Congressional recess, without Senate confirmation, when the Senate cannot provide its advice and consent. The DC Circuit struck down the President’s NLRB “recess appointments” on two separate grounds: (1) “Recess” as used in the Constitution means only the specific time period between official sessions of Congress; and (2) the vacancy being filled by a
“recess appointment” must arise during a recess of Congress. The DC Circuit found that neither of these conditions was present in the President’s “recess appointments” to the NLRB in January 2012.

In its ruling regarding the definition of “the Recess,” the DC Circuit construed the term narrowly because the Constitution uses different terms in different portions of its enumerated powers, specifically using the terms “adjournment” and “Recess” in different aspects for its enumeration of Congressional powers, and found no basis to adopt the NLRB’s argument that recess can mean indeterminate periods of inactivity by Congress and should be within Presidential discretion to determine. The DC Circuit forcefully and colorfully rejected these arguments: “An interpretation of ‘the Recess’ that permits the President to decide when the Senate is in recess would demolish the checks and balances inherent in the advice-and-consent requirement, giving the President free rein to appoint his desired nominees at any time he pleases, whether that time be a weekend, lunch, or even when the Senate is in session and he is merely displeased with its inaction.”

The DC Circuit also rejected the government’s position that any vacancy can be filled during recess, instead holding that the explicit language of the Constitution holds that recess appointments may only be used for vacancies that arise during the recess. The DC Circuit further held that any such vacancy must be filled during the same recess, otherwise the President cannot use the recess appointment power.

This decision will likely heavily influence the current litigation pending against the recess appointment of Richard Cordray as Director of the CFPB, as Director Cordray was appointed by President Obama on the same day by a purported “recess appointment.” This decision places not only Director Cordray’s appointment in doubt, but places into question the validity of a number of actions taken by him or the CFPB since the Dodd- Frank Act required a Director to be in place prior to the CFPB obtaining certain of its supervisory authorities.

We will continue to monitor this situation as new developments arise.


The Most Optimistic Housing Forecast Yet

October 13, 2012

From CNN/Money…

The long-battered housing market is finally starting to get back on its feet. But some experts believe it could soon become another housing boom. Signs of recovery have been evident in the recent pick ups in home prices, home sales and construction. Foreclosures are also down and the Federal Reserve has acted to push rates on home loans near record lows. But while many economists believe this emerging housing recovery will produce only slow and modest improvement in home prices, construction and jobs, others believe the rebound will be much stronger.

Barclays Capital put out a report recently forecasting that home prices, which fell by more than a third after the housing bubble burst in 2007, could be back to peak levels as soon as 2015. “In our view, the housing market had undergone a dramatic over-correction during the prior five years, resulting in pent-up demand for housing purchases that would spark a rapid rise in housing starts,” said Stephen Kim, an analyst with Barclays, in a note to clients. In addition to what Kim sees as a big rebound in building, he’s bullish on home prices, expecting rises of 5% to 7.5% a year. Construction is expected to be even stronger, with numerous experts forecasting home construction to grow by at least 20% a year for each of the next two years. Some believe building could be back near the pre-bubble average of about 1.5 million new homes a year by 2016, about double the 750,000 homes expected this year.

“We think the recovery is for real this time around,” said Rick Palacios, senior analyst with John Burns Real Estate Consulting. “If you look across the U.S. economy right now, there are only a handful of industries looking at 20-30% growth over the next 4-5 years, and housing is one of those.” The housing rebound can have a ripple effect that could help get the entire economy growing at a much stronger pace, which will add to more demand for housing. “That turn in the [housing] market is occurring now and it should become a boom by 2015. It will be powerful enough … to lift the entire U.S. economy,” said Roger Altman, chairman of Evercore Partners and former deputy Treasury secretary, in a column for the Financial Times. Altman said he expects housing will add 4 million jobs to the economy over the next five years, as pent-up demand for home purchases drives building and and home prices higher. Source: CNN/Money


Why Are Mortgage Rates Not At 2.8%?

September 22, 2012

Imagine a 30-year mortgage on which you only pay 2.8 percent in interest a year.

Such a mortgage could already exist, but something in the banking system is holding it back. And right now, few agree on what that “something” is.

Getting to the bottom of this enigma could help determine whether mortgage lenders are dysfunctional, greedy or simply trying to do their job in a sensible way.

Right now, borrowers are paying around 3.55 percent for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage that qualifies for a government guarantee of repayment. That’s down from 4.1 percent a year ago, and 5.06 percent three years ago.

Mortgage rates have declined as the Federal Reserve has bought trillions of dollars of bonds, a policy that aims to stimulate the economy. Last week, the Fed said it would make new purchases, focusing on bonds backed by mortgages.

The big question is whether those purchases lead to even lower mortgage rates, as the Fed chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, hopes.

But mortgage rates may not decline substantially from here. Something weird has happened. Pricing in the mortgage market appears to have gotten stuck. This can be seen in a crucial mortgage metric.

Banks make mortgages, but since the 2008 crisis, they have sold most of them into the bond market, attaching a government guarantee of repayment in the process.

The metric effectively encapsulates the size of the gain that banks make on those sales. In September 2011, banks were making mortgages with an interest rate of 4.1 percent. They were then selling those mortgages into the market in bonds that were trading with an interest rate, or yield, of 3.36 percent, according to a Bloomberg index.

The metric captures the difference between the bond and mortgage rates; in this case it was 0.74 percentage points. The bigger the “spread,” the bigger the financial gain for the banks selling the mortgages. That 0.74 percentage point “spread” was close to the 0.77 percentage point average since the end of 2007. Banks were taking roughly the same cut on the sales as they were in previous years.

But something strange has happened over the last 12 months. That spread has widened significantly, and is now more than 1.4 percentage points. The cause: bond yields have fallen a lot more than the mortgage rates banks are charging borrowers.

Put another way, the banks aren’t fully passing on the low rates in the bond market to borrowers. Instead, they are taking bigger gains, and increasing the size of their cut.

So where might mortgage rates be if the old spread were maintained? At 2.83 percent – that’s the current bond yield plus the 0.75 percentage point spread that existed a year ago.

It’s important to examine why the tight relationship between bond yields and mortgage rates becomes unglued.

One explanation, mentioned in a Financial Times story on Sunday, is that the banks are overwhelmed by the demand for new mortgages and their pipeline has become backlogged. When demand outstrips supply for a product, it’s less likely that its price — in this case, the mortgage’s interest rate — will fall. There are in fact different versions of this theory.

One holds that bank mortgage operations are still poorly run, and therefore it’s no surprise they can’t handle an inundation of new applications. Another says banks deliberately keep rates from falling further as a way of controlling the flow of mortgage applications into their pipeline. If mortgages were offered at 2.8 percent, they wouldn’t be able to handle the business, so they ration through price, according to this theory.

Another backlog camp likes to point the finger at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-controlled entities that actually guarantee the mortgages. The theory is that these two are demanding that borrowers fulfill overly strict conditions to get mortgages. Banks fear that if they don’t ensure compliance with these requirements, they’ll have to take mortgages back once they’ve sold them, a move that can saddle them with losses.

As a result, the banks have every incentive to slow things down to make sure mortgages are in full compliance, which can add to the backlog. Once this so-called put-back threat is decreased, or the banks get better at meeting requirements, supply should ease.

But there is a weakness to the backlog theories.

The banks have handled two huge waves of mortgage refinancing since the 2008 financial crisis. During those, the spread between mortgage and bond rates did increase. But not anywhere near as much as it has recently. And the spread has stayed wide for much longer this time around.

For instance, $1.84 trillion of mortgages were originated in 2009, a big year for refinancing, according to data from Inside Mortgage Finance, a trade publication. In that year, the average spread between bonds and loans was 0.89 percentage points. And the banking sector was in a far worse state, which would in theory make the backlog problem worse.

Today, the sector is in better shape, with more mortgage lenders back on their feet. But the spread between loans and bonds is considerably wider. In the last 12 months, when mortgage origination has been close to 2009 levels, it has averaged 1.1 percentage points. This suggests that it’s more than just a backlog problem

Some mortgage banks seem to be having little trouble adapting to the higher demand. U.S. Bancorp originated $21.7 billion of mortgages in the second quarter of this year, 168 percent more than in the second quarter of last year.

Wells Fargo is currently the nation’s biggest mortgage lender, originating 31 percent of all mortgages in the 12 months through the end of June. In a conference call with analysts in July, the bank’s executives seemed unfazed about the challenge of meeting mounting customer demand.

“We’ve ramped up our team members in mortgage to be able to move the pipeline through as quickly as possible,” said Timothy J. Sloan, Wells Fargo’s chief financial officer. He also said that the bank had increased its full time employees in consumer real estate by 19 percent in the prior 12 months. Not exactly the picture of a bank struggling to expand capacity.

But if banks are readily adding capacity, why aren’t mortgage rates falling further, closing the spread between bond yields? Perhaps a new equilibrium has descended on the market that favors the banks’ bottom lines.

The drop in rates draws in many more borrowers. The banks add more origination capacity, but not quite enough to bring the spread between bonds and loans back to its recent average.

The banks don’t care because mortgage revenue is ballooning. But it all means that the 2.8 percent mortgage may never materialize. Source: New York Times


New Study To Spark New FHA Requirement For Tax Forms?

July 6, 2012

A government study found that some consumers who received government-insured home loans were ineligible due to unpaid income taxes. Foreclosure rates are more than double on such borrowers. The report indicated that lenders already have the tools they need to identify ineligible borrowers and recommended changes to government lending policies. The Federal Housing Administration insured 6,327 loans for $1.44 billion to borrowers who benefited from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and had unpaid federal tax debt. First-Time Homebuyer Credits created through the act were claimed by 3,815 of the FHA borrowers for $27.4 million.

Those findings were reported by the Government Accountability Office, which studied FHA and Internal Revenue Service data to determine who benefited from the programs and what challenges FHA faces in preventing ineligible tax debtors from receiving FHA MI. While there was no outstanding tax-debt requirements for those taking advantage of the tax credit, FHA loans are prohibited for taxpayers who have delinquent taxes unless they repay the debt or are in a valid repayment agreement with the IRS. Based on a sampling of FHA borrowers for whom complete data was available, GAO found that five-out-eight of the borrowers were ineligible for FHA because they had unpaid tax debt and were not in valid repayment agreements at the time of their loans.

“In addition, GAO found that Recovery Act borrowers with unpaid taxes had foreclosure rates two to three times greater than borrowers without unpaid taxes, which potentially represents an increased risk to FHA,” the report said. FHA documentation shortcomings were partly responsible for the violations, as were policy misinterpretations by FHA lenders. Although lenders are authorized to obtain tax debt information through the IRS Form 4506, which is already a required document, such a process is not addressed in FHA policy. Requiring lenders to obtain reliable tax debt information from the IRS on FHA loans could help prevent ineligible tax debtors from obtaining FHA loans, according to the GAO.

“Further, FHA’s policies requiring lenders to investigate whether tax liens indicate unresolved tax debt are unclear and may be misinterpreted,” the report said. “The lenders GAO spoke with believed they were in compliance with FHA’s policies when they provided FHA-insured loans to applicants with tax liens and no repayment agreements, but FHA officials indicated otherwise.”

The GAO recommends that the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development should direct the Federal Housing Commissioner to consult with the IRS and develop written policies that require mortgagees to collect and evaluate IRS documentation that would enable them to identify ineligible applicants with unpaid federal taxes. Source: Mortgage Daily


Is The Housing Recovery Really Here?

July 5, 2012

The New York Times Says — YES!

Announcements of a housing recovery have become a wrongheaded rite of summer, but after several years of false hopes, evidence is accumulating that the optimists may finally be right. The housing market is starting to recover. Prices are rising. Sales are increasing. Home builders are clearing lots and raising frames. Joe Niece, a real estate agent in the Minneapolis suburb of Eden Prairie, said he recently concluded a streak of 13 consecutive bidding wars over homes that his clients wanted to buy. Each sold above the asking price. “I just had a home that wasn’t supposed to go on the market for two weeks sold before it even went on the market,” Mr. Niece said. “It’s definitely a lot different than what we saw” during the last few summers.

The trend is clear in the data. The widely respected S.&P./Case-Shiller index reported recently that sales prices for existing homes rose in April for the first time this year. Several other measures, including a seasonally adjusted version of the index, show that price increases began in February. The pace of housing construction has increased. And the National Association of Realtors reported that pending home sales climbed to the highest level since the end of a federal tax credit for first-time buyers in September 2010.

“All bets are off if anything happens to the economy, but apart from that, I think the fundamentals look better than they’ve looked in 17 or 18 years,” said Richard K. Green, a professor of real estate at the University of Southern California. Professor Green cited the combination of rising rents and low rates on home loans as a powerful inducement to potential buyers, both renters who would prefer to own and investors who want to become landlords. “Compared to a lot of other investments right now this looks pretty good,” he said. Source: The New York Times


FHA Condos: Congress Puts Pressure On

June 12, 2012

In a new letter to HUD secretary Shaun Donovan, 69 members of Congress ask the agency to ease underwriting standards on condominium loans financed by the Federal Housing Administration. The members of Congress—Republicans and Democrats alike—want HUD to adjust guidelines in four different areas, including rules mandating that at least 50% of a building’s units be owner-occupied. “The owner-occupancy limitation includes all REO used as rental property,” they write. “This creates significant problems for owners wishing to sell their unit, particularly in today’s real estate climate.” They also seek an easing of standards on delinquent assessments, certification requirements, and commercial space.

In the latter, FHA prohibits loans on any property that has more than 25% commercial space. On delinquent assessments, condo boards must certify that no more than 15% of units are 30 days or more in arrears. But the rule “does not take into consideration the overall health” of a condominium association, the congressmen argue.

 Source: National Mortgage News