Homeowners who have not been able to refinance because they are “underwater” — their loans are more than the value of their home due to depressed real estate values — are being thrown a lifeline by the Obama Administration’s latest housing market rescue plan, announced yesterday.
Regulators are revamping a program rolled out in 2009, the Home Affordable Refinance Program, or HARP, which lets borrowers with homes whose values have dropped to refinance. So far, only 894,000 borrowers have used it, of which just 70,000 are significantly underwater. The refinancing program is open to homeowners whose mortgages are owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae (FNMA) or Freddie Mac (FMCC), the two government-controlled mortgage giants whose rescue three years ago has cost taxpayers $141 billion to date.
The FHFA said the changes could at least double the number of homeowners enrolled. Analysts at Barclays Capital, however, estimated that between 1.9 million and 3.1 million homeowners could be eligible for help.
But underwater homeowners, as long as they have made all their mortgage payments on time in the past six months and meet a few other basic criteria, such as being gainfully employed, would be eligible for a new refinance product just rolled out by the Obama Administration.
According to Scott Van Voorhis at Boston.com, an estimated 230,000 homeowners across Massachusetts are underwater on their mortgages, owing an average of $120,000 more than what their properties are actually worth now. The savings could prove substantial, with $3,000 in savings each year on a $200,000 mortgage that is refinanced from 6 percent down to 4.5 percent, according to this explanatory piece put out by the Associated Press.
Given higher home prices here in Greater Boston, that could amount to $6,000 in savings a year for a homeowner with a $400,000 mortgage — nothing to sneeze at.
If this HARP finally sings a tune, it will be cause for joy among borrowers, mortgage bankers, and closing attorneys across the state. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.