About Government Refinance and Home Purchase Programs

Information and Updates on Government Mortgage Programs
Filed under Government Mortgage Financing Programs News

The number thrown around is 400,000. That is the number of homeowners legislators hope the new housing bill will help avoid foreclosure on their homes. That is a pretty big number. But if more than 4 million homes are facing foreclosure as some forecasters predict in the next 18 months that 400,000 doesn’t sound so impressive anymore. We have written an editorial speculating on what it will take to be considered for the new “short refi” option that will become available via the FHA program. There was another editorial piece in the Wall Street Journal recently expressing further skepticism about the effectiveness of the new legislation. Here is an excerpt:

Lawmakers can say they’ve “done something” about the crisis. The only problem is the bill won’t work. Contractual and incentive problems in securitized mortgages will defeat the legislation’s attempt to provide a significant amount of relief.

First, the bill requires lenders to write down the principal on loans by as much as 15%, and waive prepayment fees before their loans are eligible for FHA-guaranteed refinancing. …

For securitized loans, there is no “lender” who can write down the principal. Instead, management of the loan is contracted out to a servicer. Frequently, servicers are contractually forbidden from modifying loans or else significantly restricted in their ability to do so. This alone will prevent many mortgages from being eligible for FHA refinancing.

Even when servicers can modify loans, they have no incentive to do so for the FHA program. Servicers incur significant costs (up to $1,600) in modifying a loan. Moreover, servicers’ income is mainly based on the amount of principal outstanding in a securitization trust. When a loan leaves the pool because of a refinancing, the servicer ceases to receive revenue from it. Any equity appreciation in the property would be shared by the mortgage holder and the FHA, but not the servicer. In short, servicers have nothing to gain and everything to lose by engaging in the write-downs necessary for the FHA bill to work.

Another obstacle: Many homeowners have second mortgages, and many of these second mortgages are completely “underwater” — or out of money. The second mortgages are frequently held by different entities than the first mortgages. In order for the refinanced mortgage to be insured by FHA, the second mortgage holder would have to be bought out.

Let’s hope that this author is overly pessimistic or misinformed. I know that short sales are being done in large numbers by banks right now all across the country. I see no reason why a short refi couldn’t be an alternative to a short sale. However, we will have to wait and see in a few months to what degree the new rules are a hit or a miss.

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