WASHINGTON -- Policy changes by two of the biggest players in the mortgage market could open doors to home purchases this fall by thousands of people who were hard hit by the housing bust and who thought they'd have to wait for years before owning again.
Fannie Mae, the federally controlled mortgage investor, has come up with a "fix" designed to help large numbers of consumers whose short sales were misidentified as foreclosures by the national credit bureaus. Under previous rules, short-sellers would have to wait for up to seven years before becoming eligible for a new mortgage to buy a house. Under the revised plan, they may be able to qualify for a mortgage in as little as two years. Homeowners who are foreclosed upon generally must still wait for up to seven years before becoming eligible again to finance a house through Fannie. Industry estimates suggest that more than 2 million short-sellers might be affected by credit bureaus' inaccurate descriptions of their transactions.
Meanwhile, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) has announced a new program allowing borrowers whose previous mortgage troubles were caused by "extenuating circumstances" beyond their control to obtain new mortgages in as little as a year after losing their homes instead of the current three years. They will need to show that their delinquency problem was caused by a 20 percent or greater drop in income that continued for at least six months, and that they are now "back to work," paying their bills on time and earning enough to qualify for a new FHA-insured mortgage.
Fannie Mae's policy change came after months of prodding by the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat from Fla., the National Consumer Reporting Association, the National Association of Realtors and Pam Marron, an outspoken Florida consumer advocate. They all sought fairer treatment of borrowers who had participated in short sales in recent years. Marron, a mortgage broker, spotted the erroneous reporting of short sales on credit reports and mounted a campaign to correct the problem.
In a short sale, the lender approves the sale of a house to a new buyer but typically receives less than the balance owed. In a foreclosure, the bank takes title to the property and seeks to recover whatever it can through a resale. Though the two types of transactions are distinct and involve significantly different losses for banks -- foreclosures are far more costly on average -- the nation's major credit bureaus have no special reporting code to identify short sales. As a result, say critics, millions of people who have undertaken short sales in recent years may have their transactions coded as foreclosures on their credit bureau reports.
That matters -- a lot -- because Fannie Mae and other major financing sources have mandated different waiting periods for new loans to borrowers who have completed short sales compared with borrowers who were foreclosed upon -- in this case, two years versus seven. Under the new policy, which takes effect Nov. 16, short-sellers who find that their transactions were miscoded on their credit reports, and are able to put 20 percent down, should alert their loan officers and provide documentation on their transaction. The loan officer should advise Fannie Mae about the credit report coding error. Fannie will then run the loan application through its revised automated underwriting system.
Freddie Mac, the other government-administered mortgage investor, continues to require a four-year waiting period for short-sellers who cannot demonstrate "extenuating circumstances" as having caused their problems. If they can do so -- documenting income reductions beyond their control that wrecked their credit -- they may be able to qualify for a new Freddie Mac loan in two years.
FHA's policy change may prove to be an even more generous deal for some previous homeowners. Like Freddie Mac, FHA wants to see hard evidence of what economic events beyond the borrowers' control -- loss of a job, serious illness, or death of a wage earner, for example -- led to the delinquency or loss of the house. Applicants must be able to show 12 months of solid credit behavior, participate in a housing counseling program and get through the agency's underwriting hoops. But unlike either Fannie or Freddie, if you qualify under FHA's revised rules, which are now in effect, and your lender approves, you might be able to buy a house with a new, low-down-payment mortgage in as little as a year.
It's worth checking out.
• Write to Ken Harney at P.O. Box 15281, Chevy Chase, MD 20815 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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