Mortgage rates hit another new low

Just one day after President Obama detailed a proposal to enable millions of homeowners to refinance to record-low mortgage rates, those rates notched another record.

White House Details Housing Plans

Saying that the housing crisis struck right at the
heart of what it means to be middle class, President Barack Obama has begun to
flesh out the housing-related proposals he made in his State of the Union
speech last Tuesday.  He spoke this
morning at Falls Church, Virginia about his housing plans, some pieces of which
have already been put into effect by the Departments of Justice (DOJ),
Treasury, and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in the eight days since they
were first announced. The President spoke only briefly and most of the
information about his proposals comes from a Fact Sheet released by the White
House just before his speech.

The most ambitious part of the Administration’s
housing plan is the expansion of several existing programs to streamline
refinancing for homeowners
with existing high interest rate government or
Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac mortgages. The President wants to extend these
opportunities to homeowners with standard conforming non-FHA, VA, or GSE
mortgages through a new program run through FHA.  To be eligible the homeowner would have meet
a few simple criteria:

  • Borrowers will need to have been
    current on their loan for the past 6 months and have missed no more than one
    payment in the 6 months prior.
  • Borrowers must have a current FICO
    score of 580 to be eligible, a requirement met by approximately 9 in 10 borrowers.
  • The loan
    they are refinancing is for a single family, owner-occupied principal residence.

A
streamlined application process will make it simpler and less expensive for
both borrowers and lenders.  Borrowers
will not be required to submit a new appraisal or tax return, merely verify
current employment.  Those who are not
employed may still be eligible if they meet the other requirements and present
limited credit risk, however, a lender will need to perform a full underwriting
of those borrowers.

The President’s plan includes
additional steps to reduce program costs, including working with Congress to establish
risk-mitigation measures including requiring lenders interested in refinancing
deeply underwater loans to write down the balance of these loans before they
qualify.   There would be a separate fund created for the program to help
the FHA track and manage the risk involved and ensure that it has no effect on
the operation of the existing Mutual Mortgage Insurance (MMI) fund.  The estimated $5 to $10 billion cost of the program would be paid by a fee on the
largest financial institutions based on their size and the riskiness of their
activities

There were
also some changes suggested for GSE refinancing programs.  President Obama said he believed the steps he
proposes are within the existing authority of the FHFA but the GSEs have not
acted so he is calling on Congress to:

  • Eliminate appraisal costs for all borrowers by using mark-to-market
    accounting or other alternatives to manual appraisals where Automated Valuation
    Models cannot be used to determine loan-to-value ratios.
  • Direct the GSEs to require the same
    streamlined underwriting for new servicers as they do for current servicers to
    unlock competition and lower borrowing costs.
  • Extend streamlined refinancing to
    all GSE borrowers including those with significant equity in their home.

There are also proposals to streamline refinancing for
borrowers in the USDA and FHA housing programs but the White House noted that
the current FHA-to-FHA streamlined refinancing program has met with some
resistance from lenders who are afraid to make loans that might compromise their
FHA approved lender status.  FHA is
removing these loans from their “Compare Ratio” process which should open the program
up to more borrowers.

Borrowers utilizing either the Home
Affordable Refinancing Program (HARP) or the new FHA-based program would be
given an alternative to allow them to rebuild the equity in their home.  This option would require refinancing into a
20 year mortgage and the homeowner would continue to make the old mortgage
payment.  The excess money would be
applied directly to principal that, along with the shorter term would allow the
homeowner to quickly rebuild equity.  To
encourage borrowers to make this choice (which also reduces lender risk) the
administration is proposing legislation to provide for the GSEs and FHA to
cover the loans’ closing costs.

A
Homeowner Bill of Rights proposed by the Administration would apply to the mortgage
servicing system which the White House said “is badly broken and would benefit
from a single set of strong federal standards.” 
Among the items proposed for this Bill of Rights are:

  • Simple,
    Easy to Understand Mortgage Forms
  • Disclosure of all known fees and
    penalties
  • No conflicts of interest between
    servicers and investors or servicers and junior lien holders.
  • Assistance
    for at-risk homeowners to include early intervention, continuity of contact,
    and time and options to avoid foreclosure.
  • Safeguards
    against inappropriate foreclosure including the right of appeal, certification
    of proper process.

The President plans to include $15 billion in his Budget for
a national effort to hire construction workers to rehabilitate hundreds of
thousands of vacant and foreclosed homes and businesses
.  Similar to the Neighborhood Stabilization
Program, Project Rebuild will enlist expertise and capital from the private
sector, focus on property improvements, and expand property solutions like land
banks.  The Budget will also provide $1
billion in funding for the Housing Trust Fund to finance the development of
affordable housing for extremely low income families while providing jobs in
the construction industry.  

Other initiatives which the
President talked about this morning or which were covered in the White House
Fact Sheet have already been launched in the last few days including a joint
investigation
with the states into mortgage origination and servicing abuses, expansion
of eligibility criteria for HAMP and increased incentives for lenders in the
program to reduce principal balances, and a pilot sale announced to transition
foreclosed properties into rental housing in certain highly distressed
communities which was announced by HUD this morning

The White
House said that, while the government cannot fix the
housing market on its own, the President believes that responsible homeowners
should not have to sit and wait for the market to hit bottom to get relief when
there are measures at hand that can make a meaningful difference, including
allowing these homeowners to save thousands of dollars by refinancing at
today’s low interest rates.

Conventional wisdom holds that the
President’s proposals will be “dead on arrival” when they reach Congress and,
in fact the reaction of Speaker
of the House John Boehner to the speech was, “How many times are we going to do
this?  How many times are we going to
suggest programs to help people who can’t make payments on their
mortgages?  The programs don’t work.”

A
kinder assessment was released in a statement from David H. Stevens, President
and CEO of the Mortgage Bankers Association. 
Stevens commented specifically on the Homeowner Bill of Rights saying
the Association agrees that a single national set of standards “can help
provide confidence and certainty in the real estate market for borrowers,
lenders, and servicers alike.”

He
also commended the administration for “recognizing that more can be done to get
our housing market on track.  The programs announced today will give lenders and other
stakeholders additional tools to help borrowers and foster a renewed confidence
in our real estate finance system.” 
 

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Watch Live Now: President Obama Speech on Refi Plan / Housing

Watch the speect live  – click read more link below.

In his State of the Union address, President Obama laid out a Blueprint for an America Built to Last, calling for action to help responsible borrowers and support a housing market recovery. While the government cannot fix the housing market on its own, the President believes that responsible homeowners should not have to sit and wait for the market to hit bottom to get relief when there are measures at hand that can make a meaningful difference, including allowing these homeowners to save thousands of dollars by refinancing at today’s low interest rates. That’s why the President is putting forward a plan that uses the broad range of tools to help homeowners, supporting middle-class families and the economy.

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Six Questions on Obama’s Mortgage Refinance Proposal

Reuters

President Barack Obama said Tuesday night in his State of the Union address that he would send a plan to Congress to allow all homeowners who are current on their mortgages to refinance. Here’s a quick look at the proposal:

How is this program different from the refinance initiative that was announced three months ago?

In October, the White House said it would change an existing program that allows homeowners with mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to refinance. That program has been up and running for years, and the White House was able to make the changes administratively, meaning they didn’t have to go to Congress for approval.

The latest initiative will not be limited to borrowers with Fannie and Freddie backed mortgages, though the full details of what loans will be eligible have yet to be released. It isn’t clear, for example, whether loans that don’t meet the criteria for the existing Home Affordable Refinance Program would be eligible for this new plan.

When will borrowers be able to refinance?

Unlike some previous efforts, this program will require Congress to pass legislation, and that’s a tall order given the current gridlock in Washington. Senior Obama administration officials said they believe there could be bipartisan votes for such a measure, but recent comments from some Republicans about the prospect for any major legislative proposals this year suggest otherwise.

How would refinancing work under this program?

Details haven’t been announced, but the most likely venue for such refinancing is the Federal Housing Administration. The latest idea would allow any borrower that has been current on their mortgage to refinance, regardless of whether they owe much more than their home is worth or whether their income has fallen since the last time they refinanced. To refinance those borrowers through FHA will require Congress to change the current requirement that borrowers have at least a 3.5% down payment.

Haven’t similar programs been tried before?

Yes. But those programs put in place a series of rules designed to ensure that government entities weren’t taking on more risk by allowing investors and financial bank to offload risky mortgages onto the government.

In 2010, for example, the Obama administration rolled out a program to let underwater borrowers refinance through the FHA, but that program required banks to first write down loan balances so that borrowers could qualify under existing rules. Fewer than 1,000 loans have refinanced through the program. Congress approved a more complicated version of this idea in spring 2008 called Hope for Homeowners, but it also resulted in just a few hundred refinances. The latest incarnation of this program seeks to vastly streamline the refinance process by eliminating many of the wrinkles that policy makers and banks enacted in previous versions.

How much would such a program cost?

President Obama said the cost of his plan would be covered by a tax on the largest financial institutions that he initially proposed in 2010 but that didn’t pass through a Democratic-controlled Congress. These fees on financial institutions would presumably offset the cost that government-guaranteed mortgages would default.

Some analysts have called for “automatic” refinancing of borrowers—is that what this is?

No. Borrowers under this plan would still have to apply to refinance and pay the normal upfront fees.

Check the Developments blog for future updates on this program.

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Mr. President, it’s Time for a National Housing Policy

Please Mr. President, enough with the one-off responses, it’s time for a National Housing Policy.

The only thing more predictable than the fact that the President will deliver to Congress a State of the Union Address each year is the speculation that precedes it regarding what “Big” announcements the President’s speech will contain.

This year is no different, and a great deal of current speculation surrounds the topic of housing and whether the President’s speech will include some grand proposal intended to relieve those American homeowners who continue to suffer under the weight of a housing economy that remains stuck in neutral.

One plan getting a great deal of attention would involve the government granting debt forgiveness to borrowers whose mortgages are underwater, meaning that the amount currently owed by them on their mortgage exceeds the current value of their home.

To date, the Federal Finance Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) – the primary regulator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – has resisted calls from Congress to approve principal forgiveness. In a report circulating today, we now understand why. According to that report, the cost of such a plan to Fannie and Freddie could well exceed $100 Billion! That $100 Billion would be in addition to the $151 Billion already owed by the two enterprises to the US Treasury. And to be clear, that means owed to US taxpayers.

Hopefully, current speculation is wrong and the President’s address includes no such proposal. Its not that we don’t sympathize with underwater homeowners, we most certainly do. We too look forward to the day when the American housing economy is once again growing and functioning well – and by extension, when the challenges facing homeowners are far less. When that day arrives, that will be a sure sign that the American economy generally has returned to a healthy condition.

Our objection is broader and goes to the fact that since 2009 the policy response to the housing crisis by the Administration has involved one tactical reaction after another – or as we have said before … “a series of one-off reactions …” and, unfortunately, little more.

And while certain tactical reactions were appropriate and even required in 2009 and even into 2010, the time is long passed for the development and introduction of a comprehensive National Housing Policy. Such a policy would lay out in clear terms the goals to be achieved through the Nation’s support of housing; the economic costs and benefits of such a policy; as well as the anticipated intangible benefits of such a policy. Finally, such a plan would identify the likely costs and risks of the failure to implement such a plan.

With such a plan in place (or at least proposed), the uncertainty that today plagues this industry would begin to lift and Congressional policy makers, regulators and business leaders alike would be better equipped to address the important considerations that must still be resolved if we hope to develop an enduring solution to the Nation’s housing crisis.

And for those who would ask, “Why should a housing policy be a priority?”, consider the following written in 2003 – perhaps the last time we had a legitimate National Housing Policy in this great Nation – by the Millennial Housing Commission:

“… housing matters. It represents the single largest expenditure for most American families and the single largest source of wealth for most homeowners. The development of housing has a major impact on the national economy and the economic growth and health of regions and communities. Housing is inextricably linked to access to jobs and healthy communities and the social behavior of the families who occupy it. The failure to achieve adequate housing leads to significant societal costs.”

Until these sort of deliberations and debate occur and a National Housing Policy is in place, it is impossible to know what we as taxpayers get (and give up) for another $100 Billion spent in this manner in support of the housing crisis.

It seems to us, that the time to answer the important question: “What do we get?” … before we give more … is long overdue.

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