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.”

 


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 Short Sale Guidelines

September 8, 2012

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) has announced that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs)—are issuing new, clear guidelines to their servicers that will align and consolidate existing short sales programs into one standard short sale program. The streamlined program rules will enable lenders and servicers to quickly and easily qualify eligible borrowers for a short sale. The new guidelines, which go into effect Nov. 1, 2012, will permit a homeowner with a Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac loan to sell their home in a short sale even if they are current on their home loan if they have an eligible hardship. Servicers will be able to expedite processing a short sale for borrowers with hardships such as death of a borrower or co-borrower, divorce, disability or relocation for a job without any additional approval from Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. “These new guidelines demonstrate FHFA’s and Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s commitment to enhancing and streamlining processes to avoid foreclosure and stabilize communities,” said FHFA Acting Director Edward J. DeMarco. “The new standard short sale program will also provide relief to those underwater borrowers who need to relocate more than 50 miles for a job.” The FHFA’s new guidelines:

  • Offer a streamlined short sale approach for borrowers most in need: To move short sales forward expeditiously for those borrowers who have missed several payments, have low credit scores, and serious financial hardships the documentation required to demonstrate need has been reduced or eliminated.
  • Enable servicers to quickly and easily qualify certain borrowers who are current on their mortgages for short sales: Common reasons for borrower hardship are death, divorce, disability, and distant employment transfer or relocation. With the program changes, servicers will be permitted to process short sales for borrowers with these hardships without any additional approval from the GSEs, even if the borrowers are current on their payments. Borrowers will now qualify for a short sale if they need to relocate more than 50 miles from their home for a job transfer or new employment opportunity.
  • Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will waive the right to pursue deficiency judgments in exchange for a financial contribution when a borrower has sufficient income or assets to make cash contributions or sign promissory notes: Servicers will evaluate borrowers for additional capacity to cover the shortfall between the outstanding loan balance and the property sales price as part of approving the short sale.
  • Offer special treatment for military personnel with Permanent Change of Station (PCS) orders: Service members who are being relocated will be automatically eligible for short sales, even if they are current on their existing mortgages, and will be under no obligation to contribute funds to cover the shortfall between the outstanding loan balance and the sales price on their homes.
  • Consolidate existing short sales programs into a single uniform program: Servicers will have more clear and consistent guidelines making it easier to process and execute short sales. 
  • Provide servicers and borrowers clarity on processing a short sale when a foreclosure sale is pending: The new guidance will clarify when a borrower must submit their application and a sales offer to be considered for a short sale, so that last minute communications and negotiations are handled in a uniform and fair manner.
  • Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will offer up to $6,000 to second lien holders to expedite a short sale: Previously, second lien holders could slow down the short sale process by negotiating for higher amounts. Source: National Mortgage Professional

FHA Addresses Using Social Security Income to Qualify For a Mortgage

August 23, 2012

Documentation requirements have been released for Social Security income used to qualify borrowers for loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration. In addition, the minimum term that the income must continue has been addressed.

Questions from lenders about using Social Security income to qualify borrowers for FHA mortgages prompted the Department of Housing and Urban Development to issue clarification about the requirements in such situations.

Lenders can consider all types of earnings from the Social Security Administration when qualifying a borrower for an FHA loan as long as the income has been verified and is likely to continue for at least three years from the date of the application. According to Mortgagee Letter 12-15, eligible Social Security earnings includes supplemental security income, Social Security disability insurance and Social Security income. Income must be verified from either a federal tax return, the most recent bank statement or a proof of income letter.  In addition, the applicant’s Social Security Benefit Statement SSA-1099/1042S is acceptable.

The term of the income needs to be documented through the last notice of award letter or an equivalent document that establishes award benefits to the borrower. If the start date is in the future, then the borrower needs to have other income until the start date such as worker’s compensation or private insurance to qualify for the loan. When no expiration date is indicated, then the lender can use the Social Security income in the loan qualification without limitation. Social Security income that won’t continue for three years can only be considered as s compensating factor. If re-evaluation is pending of medical eligibility, the lender should not take that as an indication that benefit payments will stop.

“The lender should not request additional documentation from the borrower to demonstrate continuance of Social Security Administration income,” HUD stated. “Under no circumstance may lenders inquire into or request documentation concerning the nature of the disability or the medical condition of the borrower.”

The requirements are immediately effective. Source: Mortgage Daily


Summary of CFPB Proposed Servicing Rules

August 16, 2012

From Housing Wire and Dechert Law Firm:

A note from law firm Dechert to clients bring out several points on the CFPB’s latest salvo to reconstruct mortgage finance.

The CFPB is seeking to comprehensively modify residential mortgage servicing practices in the nation. The CFPB action, they say, is “reminiscent of the activism of the 1970s when our current federal consumer protection laws were first established.”

Particularly of note is the manner in which the CFPB is taking the rule-making reigns under the Truth in Lending Act and the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act.

“The proposed rules would affect lenders that retain mortgage servicing rights, third-party mortgage servicers and issuers of and investors in mortgage-backed securities,” the note states. “In many instances, model forms or model language is provided.”

But what I found to be especially useful is the nine-point outline in the Dechert note to clients that provides a quick overview of the proposed changes. The full, 177-page report can be accessed by clicking here for the HousingWire coverage of the initial announcement.

The CFPB proposed rules, expected to be adopted no later than January 21, 2013, would revise Regulation Z under TILA and Regulation X under RESPA in nine major areas.

Here are the nine-points mortgage finance professionals need to know:

1: Periodic Billing Statements

Content, format and timing requirements for periodic billing statements are established, and model forms are provided. Entities that service no more than 1,000 mortgage loans, all of which they originated or own, are exempt.

2: ARM Adjustment Notices

When an adjustment in an interest rate causes a change in a borrower’s payment obligations, the servicer must notify the borrower of the adjustment between 60 and 120 days before it takes effect. Prior to the first such adjustment, the servicer must give the borrower between 210 and 240 days’ notice.

3: Prompt Payment Crediting and Payoff Information

Mortgage servicers generally must credit borrowers for payments on the day of receipt, but they may place insufficient payments in a suspense account and, when a sufficient payment is accumulated, credit it to the oldest outstanding payment owed.

4: Force-Placed Insurance

The ability of mortgage servicers to arrange for property insurance is restricted. Among other things, the servicer must have a reasonable basis to believe that the required insurance is not being maintained, and any force-placed insurance must be cancelled and unearned premiums must be refunded to a borrower’s account after the borrower provides proof of coverage.

5: Error Resolution

For specific types of complaints, servicers generally must correct or respond to a complaint and provide requested information or explain why such information is not available within 30 to 45 days.

6: Information Management

Mortgage servicers must establish policies and procedures for information management, including document retention and information retrieval goals, that are consistent with the size, scope and nature of their operations.

7: Early Intervention

Mortgage servicers must make good faith efforts to notify delinquent borrowers of the foreclosure process and of available loss mitigation options, including how to obtain additional information regarding those options.

8: Borrower Contact

Mortgage servicers must make dedicated personnel available to assist borrowers regarding their loss mitigation options, no later than five days after providing early intervention notice.

9: Loss Mitigation

Mortgage servicers that offer loss mitigation options must implement procedures to ensure that complete applications for loss mitigation are reasonably evaluated in a timely manner before proceeding with a scheduled foreclosure sale.

Comment period on these nine points closes on October 9.