The big mortgage chill
I know it’s almost winter by the chill in the mornings and the arrival of the white pelicans. But I’m feeling a chill for more than just the overnight temperatures; I’m really chilly thinking about mortgage lending standards being loosened.
In October, federal regulators in conjunction with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have made lending institutions very happy. The reason they’re happy is because these government backed institutions have announced plans to expand credit to borrowers with weak credit and low down payment funds.
Mel Watt, the director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which regulates both Fannie and Freddie, said they are planning to guarantee some loans with down payments as little as 3 percent. At the same time, they are working with mortgage lenders to remove some of their responsibilities and remove potential penalties when mortgages default.
While Fannie and Freddie do not make loans, they do buy them from lenders and then package the loans into securities. These loans are guaranteed to investors in the event borrowers do not repay. Therefore, in order for a lender to give a loan that can ultimately be sold, it has to meet certain criteria dictated by Fannie and Freddie, which are arms of the federal government.
Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s, is in favor of loosening standards because it “would allow credit to flow more freely to lower and middle income households.”
As you will recall, after the financial crisis, access to home mortgages has been very tight because of the severe regulations instituted at that time. Now, however, because of slow growth in the housing market, the government is anxious to find a way to expand credit in an attempt to boost the sluggish economy. According to the National Association of Realtors, U.S. home sales are down almost 2 percent from last year.
That sizzle you’re hearing is the sound of my brain on fire. Does no one in Washington remember the reason low and no down payment loans were stopped in the first place? As any freshman economics student can tell you, if a homeowner puts down only 3 percent and the home’s value goes down even a little, that burrower is underwater, a word that I hoped never to have to use again. Now these poor people who never should have been given loans in the first place are faced with living in and paying for a home with no equity, and if they have to move frequently, their only choice is to walk away and default on the loan.
This is exactly what happened during the housing bubble and why stricter regulations were instituted six years ago. Mr. Watt defends the policies as an effort “to move mortgage financing back to a responsible state of normalcy.” Really, in what universe is granting a 3 percent down payment for a mortgage normal? Normal in the good old days of responsible lending was 20 percent down, and you can bet your IRA that it won’t be long before 3 percent becomes zero again.
I like nothing better than to see young people get into their first home and perhaps some of the regulations put in place after the financial crisis were too tight, but I also don’t want to see another housing bubble and all the pain that went along with the last one. The American taxpayer should not have to fund easy lending because government bureaucrats want to make their books look good.
For now it’s time for me to put on a sweatshirt and watch the white pelicans. Maybe that will put out the fire in my brain.