America's national housing policy seems, in a word, adrift: rudderless, following the whims of the prevailing political winds of the day, the ebb and flow of the ocean's tides, wherever they might take us.
Mortgage guarantor giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac both recently announced their intent to once again begin purchasing mortgage loans at 97 percent loan-to-value (LTV) in the case of first-time homebuyers.
For those in the real estate finance and home building industry, the coming of Mel Watt as the newly inducted Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency could not have come at a more propitious time.
Last month, FHA announced a series of sweeping changes in the HECM reverse mortgage program, most of which have already taken effect. The changes are a response to increasing losses suffered by FHA in connection with the extensive misuse of the program.
For the past year there have been worries that the FHA might require taxpayer money to pay off lender claims for loans gone bad. But now it may be that the economy has turned around and the FHA may well do better than anyone thinks.
In 2008, FHA attempted to increase mortgage insurance premiums on low credit scores, and to reject scores less than 500 unless the loan-to-value ratio was 90 percent or less. The proposal was shot down by Congress. Premiums are scheduled to rise this year, but will not be scaled by credit score.
For months the real estate industry has been complaining about a shortage of homes to sell, an inventory which is too small. Raise down payment requirements and the inventory problem will vanish while home prices will fall. Why? Because there will be fewer buyers in the market looking for homes.
Now that the housing market is starting to come back to life -- that's "starting," as in it's got a long way back to healthy conditions -- the Federal Housing Administration is doing exactly what it should be doing: getting back to pre-crisis levels of lending standards and market share.
Since the housing market collapsed more than five years ago, would-be homebuyers with low or moderate incomes, or with less-than-stellar credit scores have had really just one financing option: a mortgage backed by the FHA.
In 2008-9, major banks in trouble were bailed out by American homeowners as taxpayers; but in 2012 American homeowners in trouble are not being bailed out by those same banks to anything like the same degree.