The Housing Chronicles Blog: Builders hurt by housing bill?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Builders hurt by housing bill?

It looks like the housing bill so quietly signed into law by President Bush both giveth and taketh away from homebuilders. Although it permanently raises the limits on FHA loans to 115% of the median household income and offers a unique $7,500 tax 'credit' (i.e., a loan that must be paid back over 15 years), it also eliminates the down payment 'charities' that some builders said helped up to 30% of their buyers leap over the down payment hurdle and close the deal. The Wall Street Journal explains:

Although a bill aimed at reviving home sales and curtailing foreclosures is about to become law, some of its provisions are proving a drag for the nation's large home builders...

There have been months of intense lobbying by the building industry, but analysts say the legislation is a mixed bag for the new-home market. On the bright side, the bill shores up mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which should help restore some confidence in the mortgage market. It also provides a $7,500 tax credit to stimulate demand among first-time home buyers.

But for the builders, the bill's elimination of seller-funded down-payment assistance on mortgages backed by the Federal Housing Administration is a big loss -- one that could eliminate as many as one in 10 home buyers from the market, according to an analyst.

Starting in October, buyers using FHA loans can no longer accept down-payment "gifts" that are ultimately funded by the home seller, often a builder. Currently, the FHA allows a nonprofit group to gift the down-payment to the buyer. The nonprofit group is then reimbursed by the builder -- a practice the housing bill would stop...

Miami-based Lennar Corp. used down-payment assistance on 33% of the mortgages it originated in the second quarter, while Ryland Group Inc. said 18% to 20% of its buyers used down-payment assistance during the first half of the year...

Complicating matters further for the builders, the housing bill would increase the down-payment requirement on FHA loans to 3.5% from 3%. Previous versions of the measure had lowered the down payment to 1.5%.

"There will undoubtedly be some impact, but we believe the buyers will adjust and the market will adjust," says Tim Eller, the chief executive of Centex Corp, which said that 25% of its sales in its fiscal year ended March 31 involved down-payment assistance...

On a brighter note, builders say the housing bill could boost higher-end sales by raising the conforming-loan limits on Fannie- and Freddie-guaranteed loans and FHA loans to a maximum of $625,000 in some high-priced areas.

But many of those higher-end sales will depend on whether buyers can sell their current homes, often to first-time home buyers, which is why builders say the tax credit will help the overall market.

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