HUD

The recent historic drop of mortgage rates has created a refinancing boom for qualified homeowners. Unfortunately, the refinancing wave washing over the country has paradoxically left dry homeowners who would most benefit:  those who are “underwater.” Underwater mortgages, or “negative equity” (i.e., they owe more on the mortgage than the property is worth) cause foreclosures and serves to bottle up the housing market. Thus, assisting homeowners who are underwater on their mortgage is good public policy. According to a CoreLogic study, there are currently 11 million mortgages underwater and another 2 million nearly at negative equity in the US housing market – a figure that comprises 28% of all residential properties with a mortgage. In Massachusetts, there are 225,000 properties with negative equity and another 52,000 with near negative equity.

The government has made attempts to address this crisis. Last year the Obama Administration created a loan modification program, the Home Affordable Refinance Program, to help refinance borrowers whose loans were worth up to 125% of their homes value. The program did not take hold, and only a relatively minor number of modifications/refinances occurred.

Writing in yesterday’s New York Times, former chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors and current Dean of Columbia Business School Glenn Hubbard penned an intriguing column proposing easier refinancing of underwater mortgages.

Under the proposal, quasi-governmental entities like Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the FHA, and the VA would require loan servicers:

  • To send a short application to all eligible borrowers promising to allow them to refinance with minimal paperwork.
  • Servicers would receive a fixed fee for each mortgage they refinanced, which would be rolled into the mortgage to eliminate costs to the taxpayers.
  • The agencies would issue new mortgage-backed securities to cover the refinanced mortgages, using the proceeds to pay off the loans held in the existing securities.

The proposal also mandates that existing second lien holders provide a subordination agreement (which benefits the holder because it lowers the default risk).

The program would have immediate benefits: a distressed homeowner could save approximately 15% in their monthly mortgage payment, which would greatly help homeowner’s through the current crisis.

Is there a guarantee that this modification will become law? No, there is not, but it certainly makes sense for policymakers to move on it right away.

In the words of Glen Hubbard, “[i]f we can lower mortgage payments for struggling homeowners, it will reduce future foreclosures on federally backed loans, providing savings to the taxpayers.” And that’s a good thing for everyone.

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By Karen Rabinovici, UConn Law ’12

It seems more outdated than hair scrunchies, something we witnessed years ago: discrimination against pregnant women seeking mortgage loans. Apparently it’s still going on and worse than ever which is why the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is investigating numerous cases of alleged pregnancy discrimination in lending. The New York Times recently wrote about it: Seeking a Mortgage, Don’t Get Pregnant.

Spurred by the financial crisis, lenders have created more stringent guidelines for granting loans to borrowers looking to buy homes, and have zoned in on pregnant women, essentially deeming them to be liabilities. Lenders are equivocating maternity leave with unemployment, which results in automatic disqualification or reduced buying power for a loan. Although some women on maternity leave can be entitled to temporary disability insurance, this disability insurance may not be used as qualifying income because it is allocated for a period of time less than three years. Women who are on maternity for only a few weeks are also affected, so the range of women denied loans is vast.

In the past, maternity leave was considered a break from work and was not taken into account when considering whether or not to grant a loan. In this financial climate, however, maternity leave has come to be viewed differently – as complete unemployment. So, lenders will not approve a loan until the mother is officially back at work. This subjects women to more red tape:  providing documents from their employers specifying the length of their maternity leave and the date of their return to work, as well as letters from their doctors, and other information deemed relevant.

These new guidelines have resulted in too many claims of discrimination from pregnant women to ignore, and thus has resulted in the HUD investigation. If HUD concludes that discrimination against pregnant women and new mothers is indeed taking place, this could be a violation of the Fair Housing Act, one purpose of which is to protect families.

Some results of all this are that families are forced to wait until the mother returns to work (possibly rushing maternity leave), families are altogether giving up on buying homes, or families are purchasing homes that they can afford on one salary.

Families are feeling punished for having babies, and the irony that most families are buying new homes in the first place because they are expecting children does not fail to come through.

While tougher standards for approving loans have become an obvious step to take by lenders, these types of resulting consequences walk a dangerous line between what needs to be done, and unfair treatment towards one group of people. In either case, the allegations of discrimination against pregnant women reek of the sexism that was rampant in the professional world decades ago.

What do you think? Are pregnant women being treated unfairly, or are they indeed a liability to lenders because of the income gap resulting from their maternity leave?

Related Articles:

Pregnant Women Losing Out On Home Loans, Change.org

Pregnant Women Denied Loans? Realtor.com

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Lenders have been using the new Good Faith Estimate for a little over one month now. Gauging from the vociferous complaining in the lender blogosphere, it is an understatement to say that many lenders believe HUD really blew it with this new form. One would think that the new 3 page GFE would provide everything a borrower needs to know about what she’ll pay at closing, yet the new GFE inexplicably fails to provide at least 5 critical pieces of information for home buyers:

  • the total monthly mortgage payment (including escrows, taxes and insurance)
  • total cash needed to close
  • escrow amounts for real estate taxes, hazard insurance, and PMI
  • seller paid closing costs
  • Loan-to-value ratio/down payment

The GFE’s failure to provide this essential data about the loan is why one mortgage lender called the new GFE “the single worst government form dumped on the real estate industry.”

Surely, every borrower wants to know their total monthly mortgage payment month and how much cash they’ll need to bring at closing. Borrowers also want to know ahead of time how much the tax and insurance escrows will be since they have to pay several months in advance at the closing. Since the new GFE doesn’t provide this important information, lenders are filling in the gaps with their own custom made loan worksheets.

Some have complained that these worksheets are a work-around the new rules, but lenders have an obligation to provide borrowers with the full financial picture of the loan. The criticism is unfair, in my opinion, if the intent is to fill in the informational gap of what the GFE fails to provide.

The new GFE may be an overall improvement to the hodge-podge of good faith estimates previously used by lenders, but it’s certainly not the Messiah that HUD billed it out to be.

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I’m happy to welcome guest blogger, Patrick Maddigan, Esq.,the Director of Operations and Business Development at our new entity, TitleHub Closing Services. Pat is writing today on the new FHA lending changes.

On January 20th, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) announced it would tighten certain lending requirements and guidelines with the purpose of reducing risk and improving its weakening financial health. The changes include:

  • Borrowers must pay an increased upfront mortgage insurance premium (MIP) of  2.25% of the loan amount (increased by 50 basis points from 1.75%). FHA has also requested legislative authority to increase the maximum annual MIP so it can reduce upfront costs for prospective home buyers.
  • For borrowers with poor credit (credit score of below 580), they must make a minimum down payment of 10% (up from 3.5%).
  • Seller credits for closing costs are cut by 50% and cannot exceed 3% of the purchase price.
  • FHA will continue to increase enforcement on FHA-approved lenders, and will publicly report lender performance rankings to improve transparency and accountability.

The formal Mortgagee Letter released by FHA can be found here. FHA has not announced a firm date on which the proposed changes will be effective, though they are expected to go into effect in either spring or summer.

The Rising Tide Of FHA Loans

With the current recessionary economic state, constricting mortgage availability, and general credit crunch, FHA loans have become extremely popular. FHA loans, which feature low down payments, competitive interest rates, and more forgiving credit requirements, have proven the loan of choice for many first time home buyers and those with marginal credit scores. In 2009, approximately $290 billion in FHA loans were issued, up nearly 500% from 2007. Despite the housing downturn and credit crunch, FHA mortgages have continued to grow, thanks in part to incentives like the First Time Home-Buyers Credit. In anticipation of the continued increase in interest and demand for FHA mortgages, HUD is requesting $400 Billion for the expected flood of FHA loan applications in 2010. The dramatic rise in FHA backed loans, however, has caused the steady depletion of FHA reserves, putting the agency at greater risk of financial distress and even collapse. Regulators proposed the changes outlined here as  to ensure its long-term financial integrity while positively impacting the ailing housing market.

Two of the recently announced changes in FHA loans will have a clear effect upon buyers in the more immediate future- the rise in upfront mortgage insurance premiums (UFMIPs) and the FICO/minimum down payment adjustments.

Up-Front Mortgage Insurance Premiums Increased To 2.25%

The first change that will immediately impact borrowers is the FHA’s increase of the required up-front mortgage insurance premium by 50 basis points to 2.25% of the base loan amount. This change is effective beginning April 5, 2010.

FHA requires two types of mortgage insurance premiums (known in the industry as a MIP): an up-front and an annual. The MIP is similar to private mortgage insurance, or PMI, for borrowers investing less than a 20% down payment. The MIP amount is based on a percentage of the remaining debt on the FHA loan, so as the mortgage is paid down, the MIP will decrease. Unlike private mortgage insurance, FHA borrowers are able to finance the MIP into the loan, thereby spreading the cost over many years. The “annual” MIP is termed annual but paid monthly as part of the loan payment.

For a $300,000 loan, the increase in the MIP fee would add approximately $1,447 to the loan amount, not a huge amount, but nothing to sneeze about when financed over a 30 year loan term. 

Minimum FICO Credit Score/10% Down Payment for New Borrowers

New borrowers will now be required to have a minimum FICO credit score of 580 to qualify for FHA’s 3.5% down payment program. Borrowers with a credit score below 580, while still able to qualify for a FHA loan, must now put down at least 10% of the purchase price–an amount that may be prohibitive for many borrowers with poor credit.

Until now, there has been no minimum FICO score requirement imposed by FHA, however some lenders who fund FHA loans have previously imposed their own requirements (often lenders would not work with credit scores under a 620), so the net effect of this change may not be that significant. While this will preclude some of the underserved community the FHA is seeking to help, it will better balance the FHA’s risk levels and still continue to allow borrowers who have historically performed well to access the benefits of an FHA loan.

Patrick Maddigan, Esq.

Impact Of The Changes

The FHA is making an effort to lower its overall risk and improve the financial soundness of its insured loans, which in turn allows for the continued support of home buying in the United States. In doing so the FHA must find a way to keep their insurance fund’s capital ratio returns above the Congressionally mandated 2%, while continuing on their overall mission of aiding borrowers in underserved communities and facilitating the recovery of the housing market

These changes, along with the other FHA reforms (including a reduction in allowable seller concessions and significant changes and oversight for lenders) will have varying effects on borrowers interested in a FHA loan. For borrowers with low credit scores, some of these changes, such as the higher down payment percentage, will significantly affect their ability to buy a home. In the short term, the changes may motivate borrowers to lock into the old FHA guidelines before the new changes become effective.

If you are interested in an FHA loan, click here to Find An FHA Approved Lender In Your Area.

Thanks for the great information Pat! We’ll be seeing more of you around here hopefully.

If you wish to speak with a very knowledgeable mortgage lender about an FHA loan, we recommend that you contact David Gaffin at Greenpark Mortgage.

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My post on lenders using loan cost worksheets and estimates was the featured post on ActiveRain yesterday, spawning over 140 comments by last count. It turned into quite a lively discussion by mortgage lenders about how frustrated they are with the new Good Faith Estimate and RESPA rules. After digesting all the comments, I have to say that I completely understand mortgage lenders’ frustration, and that worksheets are a necessary evil, if you will, due to HUD’s failure to get the new GFE right.

As my mortgage lender friends point out, the new GFE inexplicably fails to provide some of the most important information for homebuyers: (1) the total monthly mortgage payment (including escrows, taxes and insurance), (2) total cash needed to close, and (3) seller paid closing costs. Every borrower wants to know how much they are paying a month and how much they’ll need to bring at closing. Since the new GFE doesn’t provide this important information, lenders are filling in the gaps with loan worksheets. This why one mortgage lender called the new GFE “the single worst government form dumped on the real estate industry.”

Here are a few of the comments from mortgage lenders:

Ted Canto of Academy Mortgage writes:

Hi Richard,

Timely and important post. Thank you!

We are a company that does provide a worksheet/ summary of the costs but that is before the triggers take effect (Quoting stage).  Our worksheet is actually based off all the costs that we input into the file and we are in compliance to the new rules. Once the triggers are set we immediately send them the new GFE.

The problem with the new GFE is that it doesn’t provide any uniformity to the quoting stage of the conversation between lender and client.  This causes almost all lenders to create their own idea of what constitutes a quote or a GFE.  I have seen a bunch of them and I can say that many of them are deceitful as they do not come close to disclosing the actual costs that the client, ultimately, will have to pay.

Chris Richter, Chicago Mortgage Loan writes:

Richard, Nice post.  I can’t figure out if I 100% agree or disagree with you.

I 100% agree with your position against the homemade comparison charts.  I saw a mock excel worksheet yesterday from one of the two big bailout recipient banks yesterday.  It had costs that did not pass through on the =sum() function and the rates were .5% higher than market.  It was deceptive at best.

I am not going to contend that the new rules are not without fault.  I agree that, if it was issued, the new GFE would be a fantastic apples-to-apples comparison. As a lawyer, if XYZ Bank was your client, would you advise them to issue a GFE when they don’t have to and can’t reasonably measure their exposure?

Personally, I think they missed an opportunity to create a standardized preliminary document.  I think the best part of the GFE is that it won’t vary in form or function between lenders.  Yet the preliminary estimate sheets will vary infinitely and that defeats the entire spirit of the changes.

As for the complaints about cash-to-close and monthly payment, that is simply not the purpose of the document.  I’d argue that information should not be on the GFE.  It is a GFE “of settlement costs” not “of everything you’d want estimated all rolled up onto one page.”

An overpriced lender can no longer redirect the consumer’s attention by talking about the monthly payment or cash-to-close. I don’t see how that is bad.

Gerard Ladalardo, Bank of America

I agree with most of the comments about the new GFE. While the intentions were good and warranted, it does fall short of simplifying all the fees to the borrowers. It seems like it’s even more confusing for borrowers, lenders and realtors. I had lunch with a very experienced, extremely intelligent broker friend of mine last week and he said that some lenders aren’t even allowing them to send out GFE’s because they are completely confused on the correct way to have them completed correctly and they are also afraid of the potential liability.

At Bank of America our Closing Cost Worksheet (CCW) DOES DISCLOSE the total closing costs broken down individually, the seller credit (if any), the cash to close and the total PITI mortgage payment. This is what we send to the borrowers when they are qualified to buy a home prior to the disclosures being mailed out by our processing staff. You can be completely confident that working with a B of A loan officer that your client will get a great loan! We have low rates, we never, ever charge origination fees, low lender fees and we can’t get overage/rebate at all. (you can’t selll the borrower a higher rate and get paid on this overage/rebate- if there’s any at all, it goes back to the borrower to pay closing costs).

And to sum up, as Mark Aalto of First Pacific Mortgage so succinctly does:

It does no one any good to just gripe about the new form.  It’s here in it’s present form and the best policy is to do what we can to live with it and to understand what it is and what it isn’t all about.

Lenders, what are your thoughts about the new GFE? How has it changed the manner in which you assist borrowers with pre-approvals, if at all? What should HUD fix next go-around with the new forms?

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The Los Angeles Times and other media outlets are claiming that lenders’ use of loan cost worksheets and estimates are a “sidestep” of the new RESPA mandated Good Faith Estimate which went into effect on January 1. HUD officials say they plan to conduct a review of the growing use of “worksheets” and “fee estimate” forms by mortgage lenders providing quotes to home buyers and refinancers. Lenders vehemently deny that they are doing anything wrong; in fact, they argue, cost worksheets are necessary because of several glaring deficiencies with the new Good Faith Estimate. This is all part of the shake-out during the first 30 days of the new RESPA reform which went into effect on January 1.

The new closing cost rules under the Real Estate Settlement Practices Act (RESPA) significantly changed the manner in which lenders are required to estimate loan and closing costs. Many charges cannot deviate at all, or at most by a 10%, from the Good Faith Estimate to the closing. That’s in stark contrast to earlier rules, which essentially allowed some lenders to quote low estimates of total costs, with no responsibility for the final dollar charges at closing, HUD contended.

Lenders — many of whom are feel the new GFE is the single worst government form ever to hit the real estate industry — respond that since the new GFE has a number of major deficiencies, such as not providing a total monthly cost payment, seller paid items and most importantly cash-to-close, it justifies the worksheets/estimates. (And if you can believe this, there’s no place on the GFE for the borrower to sign!).

Lenders, what are your complaints with the new GFE? (Try to keep them under 10!). Do you think providing these worksheets will ultimately help consumers? Are the criticisms about the worksheets unfair? Did HUD get it wrong with the new GFE? (I think I know the answer to that!). What can HUD do to improve it?

There is nothing explicit in the new RESPA rules prohibiting the use of these cost worksheets/estimate. Since this practice is on HUD’s radar, my recommendation to lenders is to explain clearly to the customer, preferably with a written disclosure right on the estimate, that this is not binding and not a substitute for the new GFE. That way, if HUD comes knocking on the door, you’ve covered yourself.

My goal with this post is to get the conversation going on the new GFE, not to rail against the mortgage industry. I’m on your side! As Jerry Maguire said, “Help me, help you…help me, help you!”

On a related note, as buyer’s counsel I now insert a rider provision into the P&S providing that the seller agrees to an extension (up to 7 days) of the closing date due to any RESPA/GFE related delays.

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David Gaffin, Greenpark Mortgage

I’m pleased to welcome another guest blogger, David M. Gaffin, a licensed Loan Officer with Greenpark Mortgage Corp. of Needham MA. Dave is licensed to originate in MA, NH and FL. You can visit him at Greenpark Mortgage or through his LinkedIn profile.

The new 2010 RESPA rules are all the rage right now. So I’m especially pleased to have a mortgage industry veteran like Dave to offer his views on the new rules, especially the new Good Faith Estimate (GFE).

So, you thought getting a home loan for purchase or refinance before was confusing? Well, I’ve got GREAT NEWS for you. Your government has heard you and has come to help! (Insert Sarcastic Mental Voice.)  The federal Housing and Urban Development agency (HUD) has dismantled the previous 1 page Good Faith Estimate that itemized most of the settlement charges for your loan and created a new 3 page “simplified” GFE to “help borrowers understand and compare the costs associated with obtaining a mortgage.”

In my opinion, HUD is trying to do at least 2 things for consumers:

1. Protect the consumer from dealing with shady mortgage companies that will disclose certain fees on the GFE, and then charge higher or additional fees at the closing table and

2. Encourage consumers to use the GFE as a shopping tool to ensure a fair deal.

An informed consumer will typically make better choices than an ill-informed one, so the premise behind the changes to the new GFE is a worthwhile one. However, there are several areas where a consumer may not be able to compare the costs of loan programs on an equal basis and thus make the most appropriate loan choice.

Page 1 of the new GFE groups together all of the “Adjusted Origination Charges” (e.g. processing and underwriting fees, points, doc prep, etc.) as one figure and the Charges for All Other Settlement Services (e.g. closing attorney fees, title insurance, recording fees, etc.) associated with closing your loan as another figure and adds them together to come up with the Total Estimate Settlement Charges.

The new GFE also spells out your loan amount, loan term, interest rate and the initial monthly payment for principal interest and any mortgage insurance.

However the new GFE does not include expected expenses for monthly real estate taxes, homeowners insurance, or home owner’s association dues. Nor does it inform the borrower about expected funds needed to close the loan. Because all the origination charges are lumped together, the new GFE is not specific in disclosing the number of points required to close the loan. It also does not include the Annual Percentage Rate, or APR.

Escrow funding for reserves of real estate taxes, home owner’s insurance and mortgage insurance are included on page 1.

However, despite the fact that this total sum should be uniform across lenders, the new GFE allows the lender to quote whatever number of months of reserves they choose, resulting in a variance of hundreds or thousands of dollars when comparing GFEs. This is not a borrower savings from lender to lender. At settlement these charges will be the same for all lenders.  This could result in the borrower unexpectedly bringing additional funds to the closing.  Some mortgage companies will try to gain a competitive advantage by initially disclosing lower escrow totals.  This would be an unfair and deceptive trade practice to the consumer.

Page 2 breaks into sections the charges for All Other Settlement Services which will include such newly disclosed charges as Owner’s Title Insurance, (which is an optional, but recommended purchase) and Transfer Taxes.  In many states, the Transfer Taxes are disclosed as a borrower–related cost, even though the borrower may not be responsible for this cost, thereby inflating the Total Charge Estimate.

Page 3 gives the consumer information about which expense items on the GFE cannot increase at settlement, which one’s can have a total increase of a 10% increase and which ones can change without limit. The origination charges cannot change at settlement.

Lenders who allow borrowers to choose settlement service providers will receive a Page 4 to the new GFE which will list those providers.

Analysis:  Does the new GFE Help Consumers Or Is It Just Another Complicated Form?

I have been in the mortgage industry for many years and have advanced educational degrees. I have passed my required national and state licensing exams and even I find this form to be confusing and not very helpful when comparing loans. My job as a loan consultant is to inform and educate my clients so that we arrive at the best loan program for them with the least costs based on their needs. I use different tools to compare programs, including cost/benefit analysis, total interest paid comparisons, length of loan term reviews, etc., but, with the new GFE rules, I must disclose 1 loan program within 3 business days of collecting 6 points of entry for an application. If I fail to do so, even if the borrower and I have not determined the best program for them yet, I am in violation of the law. I do not see how this helps the borrower determine the best loan program.

I will give HUD credit for trying, and as this is now the law of the land it is what we must all work with, however, given the vast departure from the look and feel of the previous form, it is going to take a lot of education on the part of loan officers, realtors and attorneys to establish a comfort level with the borrower’s understanding of the form.

When a borrower chooses a lender, they should be referred by someone they trust, should check out the lender’s and loan officer’s reputation by reviewing its website or other public information and feel comfortable that the loan officer is knowledgeable, understands their needs and has the borrower’s best interests in mind.  Then a GFE received from that company can be viewed as a Good Faith Accurate, and not just a Good Faith Estimate.

Dave, thanks so much for your insightful analysis! This is a great post and a boon for our readers. This underscores why borrowers must have an experienced and knowledgeable loan officer such as David Gaffin on their team.

I have certainly spend a fair amount of time digesting the new changes, but perhaps that is because I am so used to the old forms. The irony may well be that many consumers will be seeing the new GFE for the first time and may not be as confused as some of us industry veterans. Adjusting to major changes to long standing practices is always difficult.

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In this post, I’ll discuss a very important issue to lenders, closing attorneys and borrowers alike: how the new RESPA rules handle the disclosure of closing attorney fees/costs and title insurance.

The new RESPA rules significantly change the way lenders must disclose settlement services, in particular closing attorneys’ fees, and title insurance. Generally, under the new rules, closing costs are divided into one of three “buckets”:

(1) those that cannot change from initial Good Faith Estimate (GFE) disclosure

(2) those subject to a 10% tolerance–that is, those which cannot increase by more than 10% from the GFE to the closing, and

(3) those that can change, i.e., increase without limitation.

Here is how the GFE (page 3) shows the 3 buckets:

For closing attorney fees (which HUD now calls “title services”) and title insurance, bucket #1 does not apply, and whether the cost belongs in bucket #2 or #3 will depend on whether the lender recommended the service provider on a written list of preferred providers. If the borrower selects a provider from the list, such as a closing attorney, their charges cannot increase by more than 10% from the GFE to the closing.

Thus, lenders have an incentive to recommend trusted providers whose charges are standard and predictable. If the borrower wants a particular attorney or title insurance provider not on the preferred list, he/she is free to select one, but their charges are not subject to the 10% tolerance and can go up (or down) by any amount.

Also remember that lender’s title insurance is universally required by every public mortgage lender, and in Massachusetts the borrower pays that premium at closing (except for no closing cost loans). A lender’s title insurance policy, however, does not protect the homeowner. As HUD and I always advise, borrowers should always get their own owner’s title insurance policy. (See HUD’s Shopping For Your Home Loan Booklet and my post, Title Insurance Demystified for some horror stories about what happens when you don’t purchase an owner’s title insurance policy).

Here is how the new GFE (page 2) discloses closing attorney fees/title services and title insurance:

Note that lines 3 and 4 represent a huge change from prior practice for closing attorneys. Now closing attorney fees must be disclosed as a single, lump sum charge, plus the cost of the required lender’s title insurance policy. The old GFE itemized such closing costs as courier fees, discharge tracking fees, and the like, but the new GFE is intended to simplify the disclosure of attorney closing costs in favor of one standard charge that consumers can compare across the board.

From the GFE, these fees and costs are ultimately carried over on the new HUD-1 Settlement Statement, with reference to the new GFE lines:

At the closing, the borrower can now simply compare the GFE with the new HUD to ensure that the quoted charges have carried over to the closing table. Remember though that selected costs from a “preferred provider” may deviate up to 10% under the tolerance rules. Also, for the first time the new HUD mandates disclosure of the closing attorney’s share, or split, of the title insurance premium.

This is my second post in a series on the new Real Estate Settlement Practices Act (RESPA) rules which went into effect on January 1. My first post was Are You Ready For Some RESPA Reform? An Overview Of The New Regulations. Click here for a listing of the entire RESPA series.

As always, please contact Attorney Richard Vetstein with any questions.

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In the spirit of the New Year, let’s look back at the top legal issues of the past year and peer into the crystal ball for a glimpse at 2010.

Top 5 Posts For 2009

#1.  The Catch-22 Impact of New Fannie Mae Condominium Regulations. In January, Fannie Mae was the first government agency to drop a big bucket of cold water on condominium lending underwriting practices which some say contributed to the condominium market meltdown. FHA and others would follow later in the year. The new guidelines had condominium developers and associations, buyers and sellers in a tizzy, as Fannie Mae imposed much tougher pre-sale requirements, condominium financial guidelines and the imposition of unit owner HO-6 insurance policies, among other requirements.

#2.  New FHA Condominium Lending Guidelines Sure To Slow Financing and Chill Sales. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) followed Fannie’s lead in tightening condominium lending requirements. Originally proposed over the summer, FHA delayed implementation of the new guidelines until earlier in the month and watered down some of the most stringent requirements, after major lenders and community association groups complained.

#3.  There’s Nothing Standard About The Massachusetts Standard Purchase and Sale Agreement. Great to see a post about buying a new home ranking so highly. An indicator of the recovery of the Massachusetts real estate market perhaps? Check out this post for the ins and outs of the very seller friendly standard form P&S and how to level the playing field if you are a buyer.

#4.  Massachusetts Land Court Reaffirms Controversial Ibanez Decision Invalidating Thousands of Foreclosures. If you were following the foreclosure mess, you couldn’t have missed this judicial bomb dropped by Massachusetts Land Court Judge Keith Long. The so-called Ibanez ruling invalidated thousands of foreclosures across the state because the lenders did not record their paperwork up to date at the registries of deeds. Lenders have appealed the ruling, but hundreds of foreclosure titles remain unmarketable in the wake of this controversial decision. More to come in 2010.

#5.  Short Sales Get Boost From New Obama Treasury Guidelines. On December 1, the Obama administration set long-awaited guidance on a plan for mortgage companies to speed up short sales of homes and other loan modification alternatives to stem the rising tide of foreclosures. The Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives Program provides financial incentives and simplifies the procedures for completing short sales, a growing practice in which a lender agrees to accept the sale price of a home to pay off a mortgage even if the price falls short of the amount owed.

Honorable Mention. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the new RESPA guidelines and the new Good Faith Estimate and HUD-1 Settlement Statement which go into effect Jan. 1, 2010.

2010 — The Year We Rebound

The Massachusetts Real Estate and Mortgage Market

All signs are pointing to a real estate rebound for the Bay State in 2010, with home and condominium sales surging over 50% from last year in November. I have definitely seen an uptick in new purchases on my end and we are preparing for a busy 2010. Along with good news from the real estate market, however, comes higher interest rates as the bond market reacts to positive news. My friend mortgage consultant Brian Cavanaugh at SmarterBorrowing.com does a good weekly mortgage market update and is presently advising borrowers to lock into current rates as he predicts rates will rise in 2010 to close to 6% for a 30 year fixed. Of course, when rates go up, buying power goes down, thereby cooling the market a bit.

Regulatory

Hopefully we’ve seen the end of increased regulation of the condominium market from the government giants. Let’s toast that they can let the market take its course with the new guidelines in effect.

Stimulus/Home Buyer Credit

As the economy continues to recover, you can probably bet that the Obama administration is going to let up on the stimulus/credit throttle for 2010. So take advantage of all the credits available now, because this is probably the last you will see of them for awhile.

Housing

On the housing front, Massachusetts builders are reportedly foregoing McMansions in favor of  the more affordable middle market of homes in the $400,000 to $600,000 price range. Finally!

Technology

Lastly, technology, the internet and social media will play an even bigger role in how realtors, lenders and real estate attorneys do business. The National Association of Realtors says that 87% of home buyers use the Internet to search for homes. I tell all my Realtor friends they must have a strong Internet presence and to take advantage of blogging, social media and Active Rain to boost their online presence.

For attorneys, in 2009 we saw the tip of the iceberg for electronic recordings and closings as well as online transaction management. Our office just set up an online transaction management system where buyers, sellers, loan officers and realtors can view the status of the loan whenever they want through a secure online portal. It’s a fantastic tool. While electronic closings are a way’s away from gaining the necessary critical mass of lender acceptance, many Massachusetts registries of deeds are now e-recording, and that will continue to rise. The next decade will certainly bring electronic closings and paperless transactions into the norm.

Well, let’s clink our glasses to a very happy, healthy and fruitful New Year!

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With 11 days and counting until all lenders and closing attorneys must be in compliance with the new RESPA requirements and the new Good Faith Estimate (GFE) and HUD-1 Settlement Statement, HUD has released two helpful documents:

The booklet encourages retaining a competent real estate attorney in the transaction:

Before you sign a sales agreement, you might consider asking an attorney to review it and tell you if it protects your interests. If you have already signed your sales agreement, you might still consider having an attorney review it. (Ed. You definitely want an attorney to review and mark up the purchase and sale agreement, or else you’ll wind up signing the standard form and getting burnt).

If choosing an attorney, you should shop around and ask what services will be performed and whether the attorney is experienced in representing homebuyers. You may also wish to ask the attorney whether the attorney will represent anyone other than you in the transaction. (Ed.: You definitely want to choose an attorney who specializes in real estate, as opposed to an attorney who dabbles in it. Residential real estate practice, once considered fairly basic, has rapidly changed into a complex maze of regulations, disclosures and standards. You need someone who does this every day.)

In some areas, an attorney will act as a settlement agent to handle your settlement. (Ed.: In Massachusetts, it is fairly common that the same attorney will represent a buyer and close the loan for the lender. This is called a dual representation and often saves the home buyer money on closing costs. The buyer’s and lender’s interests are aligned as both parties must have clear and marketable (and insurable) title to the property).

The booklet also provides very helpful encouragement for buyer’s to purchase title insurance, which I always recommend:

Title Services and Settlement Agent

When you purchase your home, you receive “title” to the home. Certain title services will be required by your lender to protect against liens or claims on the property. Title services include the title search, examination of the title, preparation of a commitment to insure, conducting the settlement, and all administration and processing services that are involved within these services. Many lenders require a lender‟s title insurance policy to protect against loss resulting from claims by others against your new home. A lender‟s title insurance policy does not protect you.

If a title claim occurs, it can be financially devastating to an owner who is uninsured. If you want to protect yourself from claims by others against your new home, you will need an owner’s policy.

Kudos to HUD for finally advocating the benefits of title insurance!

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After several revisions and delays, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) has finally issued major changes to its revised guidelines on mortgage insurance requirements for condominium projects. FHA first proposed the revisions back in June (under Mortgagee Letter 2009-19). The new guidelines are effective December 7, 2009; however, some of the requirements are phased in through January 31, 2010.

There has been a considerable amount of controversy involving HUD/FHA’s proposed requirements for obtaining FHA mortgage insurance for condominiums. The newest guideline revisions are in response to the strong reaction from condominium associations and mortgage industry representatives who saw many of the FHA requirements as counter-productive and burdensome to condominium associations and owners.

The latest guidelines are described in two separate HUD/FHA documents:

  • Mortgagee Letter 2009-46B (the revised guidelines for FHA approval of residential condominium projects)
  • Mortgagee Letter 2009-46A (temporary guidance for condominium approvals).

Under the Temporary Guidance:

  • The “Spot Loan” approval process will continue through February 1, 2010, after which it will be replaced by the new Direct Endorsement Lender Review & Approval Process (DELRAP); and
  • The 30% cap on FHA loans per condo project will be expanded to 50% until December 31, 2010. Concentrations may be increased to 100% if certain additional conditions are met. After January 1, 2011, the cap reverts back to 30%.

The highlights of the New Guidelines are as follows:

  • Condominium project approval is not required for condominiums comprised of single-family totally detached dwellings (no shared garages or any other attached buildings).
  • Until December 31, 2010, at least 30% pre-sale level must be reached before any FHA mortgage can be granted on any unit. After 12/31/10, 50% pre-sale level must be reached.
  • 50% owner occupancy rate for the entire project.
  • No more than 15% of unit owners can be delinquent (over 30 days late) on their condominium fees.
  • Capital reserve funding:  The reserve study requirement has been eliminated, along with the requirement of at least 60% of the fully funded reserves. The new requirement requires merely that at least 10% of the association’s annual budget be set aside for reserves.
  • Budget review:  Lenders must review the condominium budget to determine that the budget is adequate and: (i) includes allocations/line items to ensure sufficient funds are available to maintain and preserve all amenities and features unique to the condominium project; (ii) provides for the funding of replacement reserves for capital expenditures and deferred maintenance in an account representing at least 10% of the budget; and (iii) provides adequate funding for insurance coverage and deductibles.
  • No more than 25% of space allocated to commercial use.
  • No more than 10% of units held by a single investor.
  • The 1-year waiting period for conversion condominiums is eliminated.
  • Unit owners must obtain individual HO-6 insurance policies if the master policy doesn’t cover unit interiors.
  • Fidelity insurance must be obtained for 20+ unit projects.
  • Re-certification required every 2 years.

Transition Strategy:

  • FHA will move all currently approved condominium projects to the new approval list and FHA Connection database.
  • Projects that received approval prior to October 1, 2008, will require recertification on or before December 7, 2009.
  • Projects that received approval between October 1, 2008 and December 7, 2009, will be “grandfathered” and will have to follow the new guidelines’ recertification process (recertification required every two years).

couple-homeAnalysis:

Although the condominium association and mortgage lobby were successful in watering down some the more onerous requirements, the new revised guidelines will still represent a major change in how lenders underwrite condominium mortgages. Lenders will have to perform much more extensive due diligence on condominium projects than before.

The new guidelines will also force existing condominium associations to really get their acts together, especially with their unpaid condominium fees, budgets, insurance and capital reserve accounts. FHA mortgage programs are becoming the first choice for first time home buyers, and condominium units are particularly suitable for first timers. I have already seen situations where condominium trustees feel no obligation to comply with FHA (and Fannie Mae) guidelines in connection with a proposal sale of a unit, and it is not a good situation. Condominium trustees and association can certainly open themselves up to liability if they don’t cooperate and maintain the marketability of the units which they govern. Trustees owe unit owners a fiduciary obligation to get their associations in compliance with all new FHA/FNMA guidelines, in my opinion.

For condominium associations, the Community Associations Institute has published this helpful “Head’s Up” and FAQ.

As always, contact Richard Vetstein with any questions.

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New, sweeping changes regulating how lenders, closing attorneys and title companies disclose loan and closing costs are set to go into effect January 1, 2010. The new regulations are part of a long awaited reform to the 30 year old Real Estate Settlement Practices Act known as RESPA aimed at providing greater transparency and fostering better consumer choice in loan and closing costs. The changes are so significant that HUD recently took the unusual step of giving lenders a 120 day reprieve in enforcing the new regulations.

The major components of the new RESPA reform are the new and substantially revised Good Faith Estimate (GFE), in which lenders disclose loan and closing costs to borrowers, and the HUD-1 Settlement Statement, which is a detailed financial breakdown of the entire real estate transaction signed at closing.

Highlights of the new changes include:

  • Borrowers must receive a standard GFE disclosing key loan terms, including the loan’s terms; whether the interest rate is fixed or otherwise; any prepayment penalties and/or balloon payments; and total closing costs.
  • Lenders must provide borrowers with a standard origination charge for the loan which must include all points, appraisal, credit, and application fees, administrative, lender inspection, wire, and document preparation fees
  • Lenders have the option of providing borrowers with a list of approved service providers such as closing attorneys and title insurance companies.
  • A tolerance range has been specified for various categories of loan/closing costs to prevent unnecessary escalation of promised vs. actual charges.
    • Fees quoted for lender origination charge cannot change.
    • Fees for title and closing costs where the lender selects the provider or where the borrower selects the provider from the lender’s approved list cannot change by more than 10%.
    • Fees that borrowers can shop for themselves can increase (or decrease) by any amount.
  • The final page of the GFE contains worksheet-like charges to compare different loans and terms that the borrower can use to shop pricing.
  • Controversial lender payments to mortgage brokers, known as yield-spread premiums, must be disclosed in a standard manner.
  • The charges quoted on the GFE are then carried over to the HUD-1 Settlement Statement to ensure that the prescribed tolerances are met.

Here is a link to the new Good Faith Estimate (GFE) form and a link to the new HUD-1 Settlement Statement form.  The most recent FAQ from HUD (last updated 1.28.10) can be found here.

I think that overall the changes will provide consumers with greater disclosure and transparency of the myriad loan closing fees and costs in a typical real estate purchase.  It also creates an incentive for lenders to assemble a competitively priced team of preferred settlement service providers, so it can guarantee to its customers that the price of the preferred vendors’ settlement services will never increase by more than 10% at closing.  If borrowers aren’t happy with that, they are free to shop and find a better deal themselves.

I plan to do a series of upcoming posts on this important RESPA reform, highlighting the salient sections of the new GFE and HUD-1. As always, contact Richard Vetstein with any questions.

Please read my second post in this series, New RESPA Rules 2010: Disclosure of Settlement Services, Attorneys Fees and Title Insurance.

For all the posts in the RESPA series, click here.

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For my entire series on the new 2010 RESPA rules, look to the right under “Spotlight On: RESPA Reform” or click here.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced on Friday that it will not enforce for a 120 day period new, sweeping regulatory changes to the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) set to go into effect January 1, 2010. The new regulations will still go into effect on January 1, 2010, but the board overseeing enforcement of these new rules will “exercise restraint in enforcing” them. HUD wants all lenders to make a good faith effort to comply with the new regulations beginning on January 1.

The major components of the new RESPA reform are the new and substantially revised HUD-1 Settlement Statement and Good Faith Estimate (GFE) of closing costs issued by lenders, settlement agents, and closing attorneys. HUD will require that lenders and mortgage brokers provide consumers with a newly revised Good Faith Estimate (GFE) that clearly discloses key loan terms and closing costs. Closing agents will also be required to provide borrowers a new HUD-1 Settlement Statement that clearly compares consumers’ final and estimated costs.

The new RESPA rule became effective on January 16, 2009, but provided a one-year transition period for the mortgage industry to incorporate these changes. HUD will continue to work with the mortgage industry during this period, including providing a comprehensive set of frequently asked questions (FAQs) on its website.

This is very good news for lenders and closing attorneys so they can take advantage of some well needed additional time to digest the new forms and procedures. I recently attended a seminar on the new RESPA changes, and they are quite a substantial change to the current GFE and HUD-1. Lenders must provide borrowers with a firm “origination charge” which must include all the various loan origination fees now separately itemized on the HUD-1 Settlement Statement, including points, appraisal, credit, and application fees, administrative, lender inspection, wire, and document preparation fees. This origination fee cannot increase. Lenders also have to provide borrowers with a “firm” quote for typical closings costs, including attorneys’ fees, title insurance and recording fees, and select up to 1 preferred provider for such services. The firm quote cannot increase by more than 10% at closing. If the lender allows, borrowers can use their own providers who will not be subject at all to the firm quote requirement. The new changes will require quite a bit of coordination between lenders and closing attorneys.

Most lenders who I have spoken to are not ready for these changes. The likely impact is that for the first 4 months of 2010, borrowers could see either the current or the revised GFE and HUD-1 form, depending on whether the lender/closing attorney has implemented the changes.

For a more comprehensive review of the new GFE and HUD-1, please read my posts, Are You Ready For Some RESPA Reform?  Part I, An Overview of the New Regulations, and New RESPA Rules 2010: Disclosure of Settlement Services, Attorneys Fees and Title Insurance.

As always, contact me, Richard Vetstein with any questions.

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