The Housing Chronicles Blog: Are Fannie and Freddie deliberately sending borrowers to FHA?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Are Fannie and Freddie deliberately sending borrowers to FHA?

With both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac adding tough new restrictions for the loans they're willing to buy -- including larger down payments, higher credit scores and extra fees for buyers of condominiums and duplexes -- it almost seems as if regulators are trying to steer more buyers into the arms of the FHA, which offers down payments as low as 3.5% and looks more at debt levels than credit scores. Of course in order to sell a condo unit, it has to be located in a building approved by FHA. So is this just more government stupidity or is there actually a plan here? From the Nation's Housing column the L.A. Times:

Under Fannie's and Freddie's new guidelines, even applicants who assumed that their FICO scores would get them favorable rates will be charged more unless they can come up with down payments of 30% or higher...

Applicants who seek to buy a condominium and cannot come up with a 25% down payment will be hit with a three-quarter point add-on penalty, no matter how high their credit score, simply because they are not buying a traditional detached, stand-alone home.

Buyers of duplexes, in which one unit is owner-occupied and the other is rented, will be charged a flat 1% add-on from Fannie, even if they've got FICO scores above 800 and make 50% down payments. Refinancers who take cash out at settlement also will be forced to pay extra -- as much as three points if they've got low credit scores and modest equity stakes...

Charles McMillan, president of the National Assn. of Realtors, complained in a letter to the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the regulator of Fannie and Freddie, that individual fee increases were not only unjustified but in combination they could also seriously deter home purchases. McMillan said "a borrower with a credit score of 670 making a 20% down payment for a condominium would have the fee raised from 150 basis points [1.5%] to 350 basis points [3.5%] -- more than double" under Fannie Mae's new schedule...

Where's all this headed? Absent congressional intervention or new marching orders from the companies' regulator, the add-on fees are here to stay. But there's an alternative readily available for just about anyone who wants to avoid the fees: FHA mortgages, where down payments go as low as 3.5% and credit scores are not an issue for most applicants.

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