The Housing Chronicles Blog: Lenders starting to blacklist communities

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Lenders starting to blacklist communities

Opponents of a government bailout of lenders will undoubtedly have another weapon in their arsenal as mortgage lenders are increasingly blacklisting entire communities or regions, which could lead to an ongoing cycle of related price declines: with fewer lending options available, prices come under even more pressure, which is great for cash buyers but bad for sellers. From a story in the Wall Street Journal:

As property values decline and credit markets contract, home lenders nationwide are growing ever more unwilling to finance home purchases in sharply declining housing markets, driving prices down further. In some cases, lenders have ruled out entire geographic regions and property types altogether, most notably high-rise condominiums in South Florida and Las Vegas.

Lenders including BankUnited, a unit of BankUnited Financial Corp., and Vertice, a wholesale lending unit of Wachovia Corp., have elected not to lend to some areas or properties because of declining prices. Countrywide Financial Corp., the nation's largest mortgage lender, considered a similar move last week before reversing course, and other lenders have tightened underwriting guidelines for slumping markets so as to make financing nearly unattainable...

The banks are acting to protect themselves in a steep downturn. But the drying up of loans threatens to create a self-perpetuating cycle.

"If mortgage credit dries up, then prices are going to fall more," says Morris Davis, a professor of real estate and urban land economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's School of Business and a former economist at the Federal Reserve Board...

In some cases, lenders have blacklisted not specific properties, but entire geographical areas.

In December, Wachovia's Vertice unit stopped writing mortgages for all condominiums in South Florida, says Kasey Emmel, a company spokeswoman...

Blacklisting isn't redlining -- the illegal practice of restricting lending on a socioeconomic basis -- so it doesn't run afoul of fair-lending laws, says Alexander Bono, a partner at Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis, a law firm in Philadelphia. Banks are allowed "to identify a county when it's based upon something other than socioeconomic conditions" and then change its stipulations for lending there, Mr. Bono says.

Even when banks haven't officially ruled out entire markets, the stipulations they use before lending in such areas are becoming very stringent, and can leave mortgage credit all but off-limits.

"Companies won't lend" money for purchases in developments that aren't at least 60% filled, says Paul Miller, an analyst at Friedman Billings Ramsey & Co., a unit of FBR Capital Markets Corp. When vacancy rates in a development are higher than 40%, Mr. Miller says, "your condo fees go through the roof," since a development's minimum maintenance costs remain static, regardless of the number of residents. And if condo fees remain high -- as underwriting logic follows -- then homeowners may have a harder time making mortgage payments...

In December, Fannie Mae, the nation's government-sponsored mortgage-lending behemoth, issued an announcement titled "Maximum Financing in Declining Markets."

"When a property is located in an area identified as declining," the announcement says, the lender originating the loan must reduce the maximum amount it could otherwise lend to that buyer by 5%.

In healthy markets, New York's J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. will currently lend borrowers a mortgage equal to as much as 90% of a property's value. For borrowers in states that have declining markets, however, the bank reduces that maximum, says Tom Kelly, a spokesman for the bank. J.P. Morgan then reduces that level even further for borrowers in the worst declining markets, Mr. Kelly says, though he declined to provide specifics.

CitiMortgage, a wholesale lending operation of another large Wall Street bank, Citigroup Inc., maintains a list of "declining market areas" that red-flags dozens of counties in more than 10 states. Citi reduces the amount it will lend for properties in those counties "by at least 5%," the document says.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Does anyone have a web link where you can actually search for declining market area by zip code? Thanks.