New mortgage rules may mean less choice


New rules launching early next year designed to make mortgages safer may result in less choice for borrowers.

The problem: small banks may drop out of the business because of the cost of tougher regulations.

Beginning Jan. 10, banks have to ensure that monthly mortgage payments are affordable, a result of the Dodd Frank law passed in 2010. The failure to do so carries strict penalties.

“My concern is that we’re going to be in an environment where some lenders are too small to comply,” said David Stevens, CEO of the Mortgage Bankers Association

During the housing bubble, some banks issued loans without even checking applicants’ income or assets.

Under the new rules, lenders must carefully determine that borrowers have the ability to repay their loans. That means, for example, that the banks can’t lend to anyone whose total debt payments would exceed 43% of their income. Lenders must carefully examine and double check pay statements, bank records, tax returns and other paperwork provided by borrowers.

Banks will have to make three main changes, according to Anthony Hsieh, CEO of loanDepot, an online mortgage bank.

They will have to update their underwriting policies and procedures, change their technology and retrain staff.

Already, lending had become more complicated.

Five years ago, Total Mortgage, a mid-sized lender in Connecticut, had a single attorney on retainer to handle compliance issues, according to its president John Walsh.

Today, Total Mortgage has three full-time workers who work exclusively on compliance in addition to the outside counsel, even though his business has not grown.

“I expended a lot of effort to stay ahead of the new regulations,” Walsh said. “You just can’t make mistakes these days.”

Banks large and small are hiring outside companies to handle a share of their mortgage underwriting to ensure the quality, according to Jeff Taylor, co-founder of Digital Risk, a provider of risk, compliance and transaction management services.

Big banks can handle the cost, but small lenders may not be able to afford all the extra manpower.

The changes are coming at an already challenging time. Fewer homeowners have been refinancing their old, high interest mortgages. “Now that the refi boom is over, we’ll see a lot of small banks fading away,” said Taylor.

It’s possible that bankers, never receptive to regulation, may be overstating the impact of the new rules, according to Ellen Schloemer, spokeswoman for the Center for Responsible Lending, a consumer advocacy group.

She points to an October report from CoreLogic that asserted that lenders should be able to meet the requirements. The report was written by Margarita Brose, a consultant on lender risks, and Faith Schwartz, who ran Hope Now, a coalition of lenders, consumer groups and government organizations that fights foreclosure.

Lenders will “figure out a way to deliver . . . mortgages in a way that meets all the regulatory requirements, incorporates sound lending and consumer protections — and makes a profit,” according to the report’s authors.


(Source: CNN Money)

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Home Buying Season Isn’t Over


The U.S. housing market is in a completely different position than this time last year, with solid price increases, steady inventory and strong demand continuing well into the fall season, according to’s National Housing Trend Report for October 2013.

Median U.S. home prices in October were relatively unaffected by the usual seasonal patterns, with a 7.57 percent increase year over year. National inventory is stabilizing after the dramatic declines seen earlier this year, although the nation still is experiencing significant supply shortages. Most notably, median age of inventory – a leading indicator of demand – is down 11.32 percent from last year, demonstrating resilience to seasonal changes and stabilized inventory.

“Instead of the usual seasonal slowdown, October data show the 2013 fall market moving at a fast pace,” said Errol Samuelson, president of “Inventory has returned to last year’s levels, but prices continue to strengthen and homes are moving significantly faster compared to this time last year.”

“This demonstrates that the overall strength of the national housing market is determined partly by inventory availability,” said National Association of Realtors Chief Economist Lawrence Yun.  “We expect rising home price conditions to continue through the balance of the year.”

Key Market Indicators for October 2013

October 2013 Year-over-Year Percentage Change Month-over-Month Percentage Change
Number of Listings 1,905,064 -1.51 percent -0.71 percent
Median Age of Inventory 94 days -11.32 percent 1.08 percent
Median List Price $199,000 7.57 percent -0.25 percent

National Perspective:

  • After six months of steady improvement, housing supplies are now just 1.51 percent lower than they were one year ago, which signals a greater balance between demand and supply.
  • Median age of inventory is down 11.32 percent from last year, and rose slightly from 93 days last month to 94 days in October. This suggests that properties continue to turn over quickly in contrast to the usual seasonal patterns, and despite increasing prices and stabilizing inventory.
    • Median list prices are 7.57 percent higher than where they were one year ago. Monthly prices fell slightly in October, but remained resilient against the usual seasonal patterns and stabilizing inventory.

Market Highlights:

  • The report’s October figures identified several markets with rapid turnover, some at roughly half of the national median “days on market” figure of 94 days. Oakland remains the national leader at just 30 days. Only Washington, DC has shortened its age of inventory from September; the rest have increased time on market, while Phoenix remained flat.

The report also highlighted two other sectors of individual market health.

  • Widespread Price Increases  ­– Detroit continues to lead the country in year-over-year list price increases, followed by markets in California and Nevada.  Eighty-five percent of the 146 markets covered by reported year-over year increases in list price, with just 19 markets showing price declines in October.
  • Market Inventories Shift – Decreases are steady and increases are on the rise. The number of markets where inventories were down by 5 percent or more on a year-over-year basis continued its steady decline, dropping from 102 markets in June to 65 markets in October. At the same time, inventory grew in more than twice the number of markets in October (49) compared to June (22), and the number of markets with inventories that are up by at least 5 percent over the year rose from 15 markets in June to 30 markets in October.


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Mortgage Rules Changes Are Coming in 2014


The world of mortgage lending has changed significantly since the housing bubble burst. Mortgage lenders have returned to traditional loan standards that require extensive documentation of income and assets for a loan approval.

Government regulatory agencies also continue to react to the housing crisis, with more adjustments to mortgage requirements set to go into effect in 2014:

Qualified Mortgage Rules

Whether you’re thinking of buying a home or mulling over refinancing your mortgage, Jan. 10, 2014, could be an important date for you to remember. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is in the process of implementing regulations to meet goals set forth by the Dodd-Frank Act in Congress, which was meant to correct the errors that led to the housing crisis. The CFPB’s “Qualified Mortgage,” or QM, rules go into effect in January. Essentially, these rules require lenders to prove borrowers’ ability to repay a loan by meeting several guidelines, including a maximum debt-to-income ratio of 43 percent. While many lenders already limit borrowers to a similar maximum debt-to-income ratio, the new rules won’t allow for any compensating circumstances such as significant cash reserves or a large down payment to be considered in order to offset a higher debt ratio.

If you have credit problems or a high debt-to-income ratio, you may want to push through your loan application for a refinance or home purchase to make sure you close your loan before the new rules go into effect. However, many lenders are already using QM standards in order to make sure they’re in compliance with the regulation. Mortgages that don’t meet QM standards will have to be held by the lender rather than sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, so most lenders are careful to meet the new standards.

The 3 Percent Rule

The new QM requirements also limit fees for originating a loan to no more than 3 percent of the loan amount. If you’re financing a more costly home, such as a $400,000 home or more, the lender can easily keep fees under 3 percent, which in this case would be $12,000. However, if you’re refinancing a smaller loan balance or purchasing a less expensive home — for example, for $80,000 — the lender might find it more difficult to keep all fees under $2,400. Mortgage lenders are less likely to offer loans for smaller amounts since they won’t always recoup their costs and make enough profit to pay their staff. If you need a small loan, you may want to push to get it closed before Jan. 10, 2014.

Self-Employed Borrowers

One particular group of borrowers will most likely be impacted by the QM rules: self-employed borrowers. These borrowers already are heavily scrutinized and find it more difficult to obtain a mortgage because they must prove their income based on tax returns and profit-and-loss statements, rather than standard paystubs and W2 forms. The “ability-to-repay” feature of QM rules requires all borrowers to prove they have the cash flow to make payments on their mortgage. Self-employed borrowers often have fluctuating income and rely on cash reserves to pay bills in-between payments, but the emphasis on cash flow can make it harder for lenders to approve a loan even for someone with significant funds in the bank.

Potential Lower Loan Limits

The Federal Housing Finance Agency, which regulates Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, announced in October that plans to reduce the maximum loan limits for conventional conforming loans will be delayed until later in 2014. Typically, loan limits are adjusted on Jan. 1 of each year, but the agency decided to wait to see the impact of the introduction of QM rules before making changes. Currently, the limits are $417,000 in most housing markets and rise to $625,500 in high cost areas. If you need a mortgage near these limits, it would be wise to close your loan earlier in 2014 rather than later in case limits are lowered.




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US Home Values Fall for Second Straight Month in October


National home values fell in October from September, according to the October Zillow Real Estate Market Reports, the second month in a row of falling home values and the first consecutive monthly declines since the market hit bottom in October 2011. The U.S. Zillow Home Value Index was $162,800 in October, down 0.1 percent from September.

Half of the 388 metros covered experienced monthly home value depreciation in October from September. Among the 30 largest metro areas covered by Zillow, 10 exhibited monthly depreciation in October, and two more were flat.

Home values nationwide rose 5.2 percent year-over-year, a much slower pace than annual appreciation rates in the 7 percent range experienced over the summer, and further proof that the market has begun to cool off after months of unsustainable appreciation. For the 12-month period from October 2013 to October 2014, national home values are expected to rise just 2.7 percent, roughly half the current pace, according to the Zillow Home Value Forecast. Seven of the top 30 metros covered by Zillow are expected to see home values fall over the next year, with the biggest declines in St. Louis (-1.5 percent), Philadelphia (-0.9 percent) and New York (-0.7 percent).

“The months-long period of annual home value appreciation rates in the 6 and 7 percent range was great while it lasted, but we knew it would not continue indefinitely. The slowdown we’ve seen these past few months was expected and is largely welcome news for a market still struggling to find its natural balance,” said Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Stan Humphries.  “The conditions that led to the robust appreciation experienced earlier this year, including historically low mortgage interest rates, high affordability, low inventory and high demand, are waning. In their place, we’re beginning to see more inventory and rising mortgage rates, which will lead to further normalization in the market going forward.”

National rents rose in October from September, up 0.2 percent to a Zillow Rent Index of $1,300. Year-over-year, national rents were up 2.3 percent in October.

The number of completed foreclosures in October fell to 5.44 homes foreclosed out of every 10,000 homes nationwide, down from 5.5 homes in September. Foreclosure resales represented 8.7 percent of homes sold in the U.S. in October, up 0.5 percentage points from September but down 2.1 percentage points from October 2012.

Zillow Home Value Index (ZHVI) Zillow Rent Index (ZRI)
Metropolitan Areas October 2013 ZHVI Month-Month % Change Year-Year % Change October 2013 ZRI Month-Month % Change Year-Year % Change
United States $162,800 -0.1% 5.2% $1,300 0.2% 2.3%
New York, NY $354,100 0.0% 3.4% $2,305 -0.3% 7.1%
Los Angeles, CA $487,600 1.2% 20.1% $2,332 0.1% 2.5%
Chicago, IL $171,600 -0.2% 6.5% $1,571 0.9% 3.8%
Dallas-Fort Worth, TX $142,900 -0.7% 10.3% $1,359 0.5% 3.3%
Philadelphia, PA $188,700 -0.6% 1.8% $1,500 -0.2% 1.4%
Washington, DC $343,500 0.1% 8.1% $2,090 -0.1% 1.7%
Miami-Fort Lauderdale, FL $175,000 1.2% 16.9% $1,676 0.4% 5.5%
Atlanta, GA $128,500 0.2% 14.3% $1,157 0.8% 3.0%
Boston, MA $343,800 0.5% 9.2% $2,014 0.8% 3.3%
San Francisco, CA $636,900 1.0% 24.1% $2,580 0.5% 3.8%
Detroit, MI $98,300 0.9% 22.7% $1,045 -0.3% 1.8%
Riverside, CA $250,000 0.8% 30.4% $1,590 0.3% 1.9%
Phoenix, AZ $186,000 0.7% 19.4% $1,147 0.2% -0.5%
Seattle, WA $306,000 0.0% 13.8% $1,705 0.9% 6.0%
Minneapolis-St Paul, MN $199,700 0.1% 15.6% $1,472 0.4% 2.7%
San Diego, CA $437,500 0.9% 20.4% $2,166 0.4% 2.7%
St. Louis, MO $128,200 -0.9% 0.9% $1,111 0.2% 0.1%
Tampa, FL $129,500 0.7% 16.2% $1,211 0.1% 3.0%
Baltimore, MD $229,000 -0.7% 4.3% $1,681 -0.2% 0.8%
Denver, CO $246,500 -0.2% 9.9% $1,613 1.1% 8.1%
Pittsburgh, PA $111,400 -0.7% 1.8% $1,038 1.4% 3.4%
Portland, OR $258,000 -0.2% 13.60% $1,456 0.9% 5.0%
Sacramento, CA $284,500 0.3% 30.40% $1,475 0.3% 1.7%
Orlando, FL $148,300 1.1% 20.20% $1,262 0.6% 5.3%
Cincinnati, OH $128,800 0.1% 4.20% $1,120 0.7% 5.9%
Cleveland, OH $114,600 -0.1% 3.60% $1,114 0.1% 3.9%
Las Vegas, NV $164,600 1.5% 33.20% $1,171 0.4% 2.0%
San Jose, CA $731,500 -0.1% 19.60% $2,737 0.8% 6.1%
Columbus, OH $133,800 0.5% 5.6% $1,211 0.8% 6.2%
Charlotte, NC $140,900 0.1% 3.5% $1,144 0.3% 0.6%


(Source: Zillow)

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Time is running out on energy tax credits


You can still get a tax credit for home improvements, but most of them are about to expire (again).

Last year, Congress extended the tax credit for many energy-efficient home improvements through 2013. You can receive up to $500 in total tax credits for eligible home improvements you’ve made since 2006.

If you haven’t already claimed a credit of $500 or more for eligible home improvements, then you may be able to take the break before the end of the year. The improvements must be to your principal residence.

The size of the credit depends on the type of improvement.

The tax break applies to 10 percent of the purchase price (not installation costs) of certain insulation materials, energy-efficient windows ($200 limit for windows), external doors and skylights, metal roofs with pigmented coating, and asphalt roofs with cooling granules that meet certain Energy Star requirements.

You can count materials and labor costs for certain central air conditioners, biomass stoves, electric heat pumps and electric heat pump water heaters that meet specific energy-efficient guidelines — up to a maximum of $300 each. You can count up to $150 for an eligible natural gas, propane or oil furnace or water boiler.

The items must meet specific energy-efficient requirements to qualify. See the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s tax breaks site, the Alliance to Save Energy tax credit page and the Tax Incentives Assistance Project site for more information. Keep your receipts and the manufacturer’s certification of eligibility for your records.

Some alternative-energy improvements qualify for larger tax credits with a later deadline. You can take a credit worth 30 percent of the cost of buying and installing certain alternative-energy equipment, such as geothermal heat pumps, solar water heaters, solar panels, fuel cells and small wind-energy systems.

You must make these improvements by Dec. 31, 2016, and they aren’t subject to the $500 limit. See the Energy Star tax credit website for details on these credits.

You can claim these credits by filing IRS Form 5695, Residential Energy Credits, which also includes more details about these credits.

If you don’t qualify for the federal incentives, see if you can get any state tax breaks for energy-efficient home improvements.

For links to information about the programs in each state, see the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy site.

For a list of several state and utility programs, see the Tax Incentives Assistance Project site.


(Source: Chicago Tribune)

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