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Want to buy a condo? See how a new law could expand FHA options here in O.C.

After three months of house hunting, auto technician Mahyar Abab and his wife, teacher Ana Abab Marques, are in escrow to buy a home in the Mission Courts condos in Rancho Santa Margarita.

But landing an Orange County home of their own for under $400,000 wasn’t exactly a picnic.

As first-time homebuyers using Federal Housing Administration (FHA) financing, only about half of the condos on the market had the necessary certification that would allow them to buy, said their agent, Bob Wolff.

And without FHA, the Ababs would continue to be renters. With FHA, they only need to put about $13,000 down, or 3.5 percent of the purchase price.

“It’s hard to save for the down payment. It’s hard to save for the closing costs,” said Ana, 44. “Also the price is a little high at this time. And there’s a lot of competition. We made an offer on five places.”

The Ababs were competing with buyers paying 10 to 20 percent down, and in some cases, paying all cash. Some sellers also believe – erroneously, Wolff says – that the FHA process is more rigorous than conventional financing.

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FHA may be open again to financing condos

Could the Federal Housing Administration finally be opening its doors again to financing more condominium units? If so, that could be excellent news for young, first-time buyers and for seniors who own condo units and need a reverse mortgage to supplement their post-retirement incomes.

Here’s why: FHA financing offers not only 3.5 percent minimum down payments but is far more lenient than other options on crucial issues such as credit scores and debt-to-income ratios. Plus FHA is the dominant source of insured reverse mortgages — the only game in town for the vast majority of seniors.

But if a condo building is not certified as eligible for financing by FHA, all the individual units in the project are ineligible for mortgage financing as well. Young families can’t buy using FHA loans, sellers can’t sell and seniors can’t tap their equity through a reverse mortgage. It used to be different — for years FHA allowed so-called “spot” loans on individual units — but no more.

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Donovan blasts new rule that landlords can’t ban criminals

A recent decision by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) says landlords can’t broadly deny housing to people with criminal histories, and that rubs Rep. Daniel Donovan the wrong way.

The new HUD guidelines say because of the high rate of incarceration of blacks and Latinos, denying housing to someone with a criminal background could be de facto discrimination.

“Across the United States, African Americans and Hispanics are arrested, convicted and incarcerated at rates disproportionate to their share of the general population,” the memo reads. “Consequently, criminal records-based barriers to housing are likely to have a disproportionate impact on minority home seekers.”

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) makes it illegal for a housing provider to deny housing to someone due to discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin or family status.

While criminal history isn’t listed, HUD has interpreted the act to extend to those minorities whose criminal backgrounds might be used against them to deny them housing.

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Looking for a low-down-payment loan? If your FICO score is good, you’re in luck.

If you’re planning to buy a home with a low down payment, you need to be aware of some important but virtually unpublicized price changes underway in the mortgage market.

If you’ve got good but not great credit, such as a FICO score in the mid to upper 600s, you’re going to get hit with higher fees on a conventional (non-government) loan with a low down payment. Count on it. On the other hand, if you’re part of the credit elite — your FICO score is 760 or higher — congratulations: You’re in line for an unexpected discount on fees, despite making a tiny down payment.

What’s going on? Put simply, the mortgage insurance premiums on loans eligible for sale to giant investors Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac underwent a shake-up this month. Applicants with lower scores and smaller down payments got whacked.

To illustrate: According to one mortgage insurer’s rate sheet, the buyer of a $400,000 house with a 660 FICO, a 3 percent down payment and a fixed rate of 4 1/8 percent would have paid $2,359 a month in principal, interest and mortgage insurance before the premium changes took effect April 4. Today, the same borrower would be charged $2,495 a month — $136 more a month, $1,632 more a year. But a borrower with a 760 FICO seeking the same size loan with a rate of 3 7/8 percent would now be charged $162 less per month — $2,002 vs. $2,164 — because of the pricing revisions.

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New rules for condo buyers with FHA, VA loans

Did you know a homeowners association could have an impact on whether you can buy a condominium with a government-backed loan?

As of 2009, both the Federal Housing Administration and Department of Veterans Affairs require a condominium’s homeowners association to be approved before a buyer can get a loan for a home in that complex.

“A lot of condo boards still don’t realize this has happened,” said Andrew Fortin, senior vice president of external affairs at Associa, a community management association. “It’s not a hard process, but it’s a very technically challenging one. The burden is on the association.”

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NAR Calls for Further FHA Insurance Premium Reductions

Amid improving but still somewhat lackluster existing-home sales numbers for March, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) called for the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to make more changes to its programs in order to help more first-time buyers enter the market.

Though existing-home sales increased over-the-month by 5.1 percent to an annual rate of 5.33 million in March, nearly erasing February’s disappointment, the same problems that have plagued the housing market in the last six months to a year are persisting—affordability and tight inventory, according to the National Association of Realtors’ (NAR) Existing-Home Sales Report for March 2016 released Tuesday.

“Closings came back in force last month as a greater number of buyers—mostly in the Northeast and Midwest—overcame depressed inventory levels and steady price growth to close on a home,” NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said. “Buyer demand remains sturdy in most areas this spring and the mid-priced market is doing quite well. However, sales are softer both at the very low and very high ends of the market because of supply limitations and affordability pressures.”

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Stop Overcharging FHA Borrowers to Subsidize Reverse Mortgage Risks

It will apparently surprise some in Washington that, had the FHA not used the single-family mortgage insurance program to subsidize Homeowners Equity Conversion Mortgage, it would already have surpassed the 2% minimum statutory capital requirement mandated by Congress.

The Federal Housing Administration has made net transfers of $4.3 billion since fiscal year 2010 to the HECM financing account “to cover the increase in expected losses” in the reverse mortgage program.

Instead of confirming that the FHA’s flagship program has weathered the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression at no expense to the American taxpayer, the actuarial review of the Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund for fiscal year 2015 offers the misleading impression that the forward portfolio’s all-important capital ratio is still below 2%.

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FHA Chief Golding Defends Agency’s Health to Congress

The Federal Housing Administration (FHA)’s Mutual Mortgage Insurance (MMI) Fund, Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) program, and the Agency’s mission were the focal points in Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Edward Golding’s testimony before the House Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance on Thursday.

The hearing, titled “The Future of Housing in America: Examining the Health of the Federal Housing Administration,” was the sixth on the topic in the House Subcommittee on Housing and Industry during the 114th Congress.

The capital ratio of the MMI Fund sat at 0.41 percent, less than a quarter of its 2 percent minimum required by Congress, for Fiscal Year 2014. For FY 2015, that number shot up to 2.07 percent, even after the FHA took some heat for lowering the MMI premium by 50 basis points in January 2015.

“FHA’s Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund bore the strain of the Great Recession, falling below its required capital reserve and eventually taking a mandatory appropriation in 2013,” Golding said in his testimony on Thursday. “However, FHA’s focus on risk management, increasing revenue, and program improvements resulted in the ratio returning to 2 percent in 2015. This achievement was the result of FHA’s prudent policy changes, and an ability to work with Congress to pass stabilizing legislation and quickly implement program changes over the course of several years.”

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Landslide vote in House bodes well for easing limits on condo sales

Everybody knows that congressional Democrats and Republicans can barely agree on anything. Yet in a rare and fleeting moment of unanimity in the House of Representatives, they recently approved legislation that could expand purchase prospects for thousands of people looking to buy their first home.

By a 427-0 vote, the House passed the Housing Opportunity Through Modernization Act, co-sponsored by Reps. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.) and Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.) Among other provisions, the bill would force the Federal Housing Administration to ease rules and restrictions that have essentially turned the agency’s once-vibrant condominium-unit financing program into a minefield for would-be purchasers, condo associations and lenders.

The FHA is the government’s principal agency for helping consumers buy affordable homes. It does not lend money itself but instead insures mortgages made by private lenders. FHA requires a down payment of as little as a 3.5 percent on loans it insures, allows more-flexible debt-to-income ratios than most other mortgage sources and tends to be more lenient on applicants’ past credit problems. As a result, FHA has long been the go-to mortgage source for young, first-time buyers, many of them minorities. The condo-unit financing program was especially attractive because in most markets condo units cost a median 20 percent to 30 percent less than single-family detached houses.

Congress Told FHA Fund is Strong, Reverse Mortgages Improving

In a hearing on Thursday before the House Financial Services Committee, Edward L. Golding, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) said that the value of the Federal Housing Administration’s Mutual Mortgage Insurance (MMI) Fund has improved by $19 billion in the last year.  The Fund fell into negative territory during the housing crisis, battered by poor performance of its guarantee portfolio.

Golding said the Fund increased from $4.8 billion in FY 2014 to $23.8 billion in the most recent year, a total of $40 billion in growth since 2012.  The Fund, which is required by Congress to maintain a capital ratio of 2.0 percent, has improved since 2012 from a negative 1.44 percent to a positive 2.07 percent.  Further, the Independent Actuary’s 2015 review predicts that the Fund will finish 2016 with a ratio of 2.77 percent.

Golding said the underlying fundamentals of the FHA portfolio are strong and show positive performance in credit quality, reduced delinquencies, and higher recoveries on distressed assets.  The early payment delinquency (EPD) rates are typical of the better credit quality of new business.  The EPD give an early warning of problems, measuring the rate at which loans experience delinquencies in their first 90 days.  The EDP rates for FY2010 through FY2015 vintage loans are less than 20 percent of those for the 2007 and 2008 vintages.

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