Order out of chaos

Castles in the Sand

Writing has been compared to bringing order out of chaos, something I try to do weekly on this page, and one of the most chaotic aspects of real estate is the mortgage process, which may be getting even more confusing to the average home buyer.

As confusing as the typical mortgage process is, the relationship of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA and Ginnie Mae – entities that are also known as government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) – to the mortgage market continually contribute to the chaos.

Before we go on, a quick review: Over 50 years ago Congress chartered the government-sponsored enterprises to provide liquidity to housing finance. The GSEs securitized and guaranteed mortgages, freeing up private lenders to provide more loans, making mortgages more readily available to the average home buyer. This created the 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage, which has been the gold standard of housing finance for all these years.

It was a great system until it went off the rails with sub-prime mortgage products partly encouraged by Congress leading to the bursting of the housing bubble and financial collapse in 2008. The American taxpayer was on the hook for $190 billion dollars to keep Fannie and Freddie floating and they have been in government conservatorship since then.

Now the federal government wants to gradually shrink the GSEs and start returning them to private hands. One of the suggested ways is to require them to have additional capital and underwriting standards comparable to private lenders. Will this happen? Maybe, but even if the wheels start to spin in that direction, it will be a long painful process which could turn on a dime subject to the outcome of a national election.

In the meantime, there is a new type of unconventional mortgage that has turned up. It’s called asset-depletion loans or asset-dissipation loans. Basically, they are designed for people who don’t have conventional paychecks, particularly retirees. As long as the borrower’s ability to draw on their assets is not overestimated, the loans can be fine.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac do make these loans but only based on a borrower’s 401k assets. However, Fannie and Freddie have eased up on standards for this type of loan, asking for smaller down payments and allowing more debt for borrowers. Again, this creates more risk for the American taxpayers.

So, what else do the gatekeepers of the American housing market have up their sleeve? Well, there is something that many Florida residents will be very interested in. Within the past year, they rolled out a program that would treat manufactured homes the same as it does site-built properties.

This means that a previous market that was difficult to obtain mortgaging for will now operate as a conventional mortgage market. They have also designed mortgages for manufactured homes at lower interest rates than buyers of these properties were previously able to obtain, as well as allowing appraisers to compare manufactured homes to those built on-site when determining value.

This may be a great program for many buyers of manufacturers homes, but in Florida, as we all know, manufactured homes are the most vulnerable in storms. Again, call me crazy, but do we as taxpayers need to assume more mortgage risk?

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as well as all other GSE programs, will go on for a long time before any real change is made. It’s almost impossible to take away something that’s been in effect for so long. All I can do is try to bring order out of the mortgage processing chaos.

More Castles in the Sand:

Luxury ain’t what it used to be

The fun and not-so-fun of selling a home

The fun and not-so-fun of buying a home