5 mortgage market insights

The vast majority of homebuyers in the U.S. are also borrowers. Poorly regulated and predatory mortgage lending fueled the real estate bubble. As many pundits have noted since the real estate market collapse, regaining traction has been stalled by lender overcorrection. Thus, the moniker for our recent economic situation: the “credit crunch”.

After nearly six years of severely stunted mortgage lending, lenders are loosening their purse strings once again, according to a recent Wall Street Journal report. Check out these five must-knows about the future of our mortgage markets.

1. Low down payment loans are coming back. True, the 3.5% Federal Housing Administration (FHA)-insured loan never totally went away. But 2008 saw the FHA’s market share balloon to an unsustainable size as FHA-insured loans were the only option for buyers with little savings, post-bust. The share of all non-FHA-backed loans with a down-payment of 10% or less reached a 5-year high last year, according to Black Knight Financial Services.

2. No-money-down mortgages still exist. The VA still offers no-down-payment loans. Veterans can also get special loan privileges through the Navy Federal Credit Union. The USDA insures some no-down-payment loans in certain rural areas. The fact is, however, we ought to be thankful such loans are no longer available to wider public. Having some skin in the game vastly decreases the chances of default and thus protects against another foreclosure tsunami.

3. The return of low-down-payment loans does not necessarily mean another bubble. True, low- and no-down mortgages were the accelerant of the real estate wildfire in the early 2000s. However, it’s important to remember that it wasn’t the lack of down payment alone that led to the mortgage market’s flammability.

The preponderance of loans that went belly up were no- and low-doc loans. New qualified mortgage (QM) and ability-to-repay (ATR) rules ought to prevent another subprime crisis of the same or similar character to the last one.

Adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs) remain a threat to the real estate market’s stability, however. Very little has been done to specifically regulate these products even though the combination of low teaser rates on ARMs and poor financial literacy was a huge impetus for the mortgage crisis. QM/ATR does address ARMs. They are to be underwritten at the maximum allowable interest rate after five years from the date of the first payment. So the ARMs threat has been eased but not neutralized. 

4. Credit standards are easing, but remain tight.Fewer than 0.2% of mortgage borrowers had a credit score less than 620 last year. This is compared to 2001 when more than 13% of borrowers fell below this threshold. The tighter credit score standards means the millions of Californians still recovering from foreclosure and short sale will have a harder time qualifying for mortgage funds. However, the new ATR rules do not include any specific credit score minimums. Thus, lenders may have an opportunity to focus more on an applicant’s ability to repay based on their current financial situation rather than their tainted credit history.
(ATR rules =ABILITY-TO-REPAY AND QUALIFIED MORTGAGE RULE)

5. Mortgages move the real estate market. There would have been around 200,000 more mortgages made in 2012 if credit standards had returned to pre-bubble levels, according to the Urban Institute.
Economists at Goldman Sachs estimate new home sales will rise to 800,000 homes in 2017, compared with about 430,000 in 2013. This increase ought to occur based on improving economic fundamentals such as job growth and household formation.

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