FHA

Condo Sales May Get Slight Boost, But Financing Rules Remain Tight

Responding to lender, condominium association and consumer outcry that the existing FHA condominium lending guidelines are too strict, the Federal Home Administration (FHA) on September 13, 2012 announced a round of changes which will hopefully make it easier for borrowers to qualify for FHA condo loans. The full FHA announcement can be found here.

While some of the changes are a step in the right direction, I think overall they are a mixed bag, as FHA left some of the most onerous provisions intact. I’m skeptical that these new changes will have a major impact on condominium sales, but of course, any loosening of the strict requirements is a good thing.

Condo Fee Delinquency Rule Increased to 60 Days Overdue
FHA is softening its stance on delinquent monthly condo fees and home owner association (HOA) dues. FHA is now allowing up to 15% of a project’s units to be 60-days delinquent on condo fees, up from just 30 days delinquent under the prior rule. This change acknowledges the depressed economy which has caused many condo unit owners to have trouble paying their condo fees. This is definitely a good change.

Expanded Investor Purchasing Allowed
Under the new rules, investors can come in and buy more units in a project than they could previously. They can now buy up to 50% of the project units, up from just 10% before, but with an important caveat:  the developer must convey at least 50% of the units to individual owners or be under contract as owner-occupied.

Owner Occupancy Limits and Total FHA Financing Percentage Unchanged
The biggest disappointment of the new rules is that the main impediment to FHA condo financing remains unchanged, and that’s the 50% rule. Before any new buyer can obtain FHA financing, 50% of a project’s units be sold to third party buyers. This is what I’ve called the Catch-22. FHA provides the most first time home financing, so how can a developer expect to sell out his project if he cannot offer initial FHA financing? Doesn’t make any sense. I agree with the National Association of Realtors and the Community Association Institute on this one. Get rid of the 50% rule or decrease it to 25% or less.

Another restriction that hasn’t changed is the number of units that can have an FHA-backed loan. Only half the units can have FHA financing, so a borrower can’t get FHA approval if his unit would put the number of FHA financed units over 50%. That limitation remains unchanged, and that’s a killer for a lot of projects.

Spot Approvals Remain Dead
Mortgage lenders used to love FHA “spot approvals” which could by-pass the involved standard FHA approval process in order to get individual unit financing. Problem was is that they love spot approvals way too much, and they got abused. Ah, a few bad apples ruin it for everyone. FHA did not resurrect spot approvals from the dead on this go-around. Maybe they will be back when the economy gets better.

More Commercial Space OK
Projects can also have more space devoted to non-residential commercial uses than before. You see this a now in Boston with Starbucks and a bank office on the ground floor of a new condominium building. Up to this point, only 25% of project space could be used for commercial purpose. Now 50% of the project can be commercial, although certain authority for approval is reserved for the local FHA office. This will benefit the newer mixed use projects in urban markets.

Fidelity Insurance Coverage Required

Important for all condominium professional management companies. If the condominium engages the services of a management company, the company must obtain its own fidelity coverage meeting the FHA association coverage requirements or the association’s policy must name the management company as an insured, or the association’s policy must include an endorsement stating that management company employees subject to the direction and control of the association are covered by the policy. This is a substantial change to the previous requirements that required management companies to obtain separate fidelity insurance for each condominium.

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Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts condominium attorney who regularly advises condominium associations on FHA certification issues. Please contact Mr. Vetstein at [email protected]


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I’m getting pretty tired of all the condominium developers and realtors out there claiming and clamoring that the new FHA condominium guidelines which went into effect this week are the next coming of the Apocalypse. The fact remains that the new guidelines will ensure that condominiums are financially sound and well-run, and that’s good news for everyone: lenders, consumers, buyers, unit owners and realtors alike.

David Fletcher, a Florida real estate broker and former developer who has survived every recession since the 1970’s, gets it. In an article in Realty Times yesterday, he outlines 10 benefits of the new rules, especially from a sales and marketing perspective:

  1. More buyers will enter the market because they can afford the lower down payment.
  2. No single investor can purchase more than 10% of the units, so the idea of a controlled association by one or two investors is no longer a threat.
  3. More inventory will offer wider choices tending to keep prices in check, as “FHA approved’ condominiums come on line.
  4. More real estate agents will be willing to show condominiums to their buyers, because the lender who provides the mortgage will have to approve not only the condo documents, but the condo association’s budget, reserve account and its fidelity insurance policy.
  5. New construction developers have the guidelines needed to create urgency in their pricing strategies, which is key to building and maintaining momentum.
  6. Commercial lenders will have a more comfortable level with developers. While the 50% presale requirement may look obtrusive, it is actually a benefit to the developer, because it will create urgency for buyers to purchase.
  7. Established associations that have dragged their feet to get their finances in order, now have a valid value-based reason to become “FHA Approved.”
  8. Real estate agents will show FHA approved condominiums with confidence in the association’s finances, not just because the down payment is low.
  9. Forward thinking lenders will hustle to become a “an approved lender’ in resale and new communities alike
  10. Knowing the property already has approved lenders will make competition for listings tighter and will attract more buyers and more prospects to the listing.

David believes — and I agree with him — that “FHA Approved” will become one of the most sought after seals of approvals for condominiums in 2010 and beyond. Let’s hope that all the realtors, lenders, and condominium developers out there realize the benefits that can be gained from obtaining FHA approved status.

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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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Update: 11/10/09–FHA Issues Final Revised Guidelines–Spot Approvals Extended Until Feb. 1, 2010

With an eye on the “volatility” of the condo market, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) has backed off some of the stingy new rules for condominium lending set to be implemented Dec. 7.

After a meeting with the Mortgage Bankers Association last week, the FHA made the following changes to its June 12 condominium guidance letter in a new letter dated Nov. 6:

  • Spot loan approvals can continue until Feb. 1, 2010.
  • The FHA will allow a 50 % concentration of FHA loans – up from 30 %- in condominium buildings, and well-qualified buildings can have up to 100 %.
  • A 50 % owner-occupancy requirement for new condo projects.
  • The pre-sale requirement has been reduced to 30 % of new projects.
  • Reserve study requirement eliminated.  Condominium budget must provide for funding reserve account for at least 10% of operating budget

The original implementation date for new condo rules was Nov. 1, but that date was pushed back to Dec. 7. The above rules, except the spot loan approval, are all labeled as “temporary,” effective through Dec. 30 – although the FHA reserves the right to extend that date.

A copy of the new guidelines can be found here.

As always, contact Richard Vetstein with any questions.

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Update: 11/10/09–THESE RULES HAVE CHANGED. Please see my post: FHA Issues Final Revised Guidelines–Spot Approvals Extended Until Feb. 1, 2010

Update: 10/26/09–The FHA Has Delayed Implementation Of New Rules Until December 7, 2009

Under revised guidelines which were to be effective October 1, 2009 but now delayed until November 2, 2009, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) is implementing a new stricter approval process for condominiums to be eligible for FHA financing. The guidelines are very similar to the new Fannie Mae regulations issued earlier in the year. Some “highlights” of the new regulations include that all FHA approved condominium projects have at least a 50% level of owner occupancy or sell out, no more than a 15% condo fee delinquency rate and a capital reserve study, among other requirements. There is also a little known requirement for an affirmative action housing plan for new construction and conversions. The FHA guidelines will surely slow down condominium mortgage financing, and negatively impact first time home buyers’ ability to obtain FHA mortgages for condominium units.

For those who don’t know, FHA is a government program designed to help more people buy homes, and more borrowers will qualify with FHA financing than with conventional. It is a low down payment (3.5% down) program and the credit standards are much looser. The mortgage rates are typically better, as well.

To obtain a FHA mortgage on a condominium, the project must be FHA approved. Prior to these changes, there were two ways a condominium could be FHA approved: (1) full project approval, and (2) “spot” approval. Full project approval means that FHA has already done the approval on the entire condominium. Spot approvals were performed on non-FHA approved projects on a loan by loan basis, and were a way to make FHA loans available to home buyers in well run condo projects even if they haven’t gone through the full approval process.

No More Spot Approvals

Under the new guidelines, the popular spot approval process will no longer be available and will be replaced with an entirely new process called Direct Endorsement Lender Review and Approval Process (DELRA). FHA claims the DELRA process is more uniform and streamlined that the former spot loan approval process, but that remains to be seen. The good thing is that lenders will retain the ability, like the former spot approval process, to underwrite FHA loans on non-FHA approved projects, albeit with tighter guidelines.

The new regulations also limit the duration of full project approvals to two years. Thus, even approved condominiums must re-certify every 2 years.

New Project Eligibility Guidelines

Under the new project eligibility requirements, all condominiums (consisting of 2 or more units) must meet the following requirements:

  • At least 50% of the units of a project must be owner-occupied or sold to owners who intend to occupy the units. For proposed, under construction or projects still in their initial marketing phase, FHA will allow a minimum owner occupancy amount equal to 50 % of the number of presold units (the minimum pre-sale requirement of 50 percent still applies).
  • Projects must be covered by hazard and liability insurance and, when applicable, flood insurance.
  • At least 50% of the total units must be sold prior to endorsement of any mortgage on a unit. Valid pre-sales include an executed sales agreement and evidence that a lender is willing to make the loan.
  • No more than 15% of the total units can be in arrears (more than 30 days past due) of their condominium association fee payment.
  • No more than 25% of the property’s total floor area in a project can be used for commercial purposes.  The commercial portion of the project must be of a nature that is homogeneous with residential use, which is free of adverse conditions to the occupants of the individual condominium units.
  • Reserve Study – a current reserve study must be performed to assure that adequate funds are available for the funding of capital expenditures and maintenance. A current reserve study must be no more than 12 months old – if recent events or market conditions have affected the finished condition of the property that information must be included. When reviewing the reserve study, consideration must be given to items that have been replaced after the time that the reserve study was completed. The regulations fail to define what is “adequate,” however, guidance may be found in the new Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac condominium guidelines which mandate at least 10% of annual operating budget in reserves.
  • No more than 10% of the units may be owned by one investor.  This will apply to developers/builders that subsequently rent vacant and unsold units.  For two and three unit condominium projects, no single entity may own more than one unit within the project; all units, common elements, and facilities within the project must be 100% complete; and only one unit can be conveyed to non-owner occupants.
  • Rights of first refusal are permitted unless they violate discriminatory conduct under the Fair Housing Act.

Buried in the fine print is a requirement for an affirmative action-type housing plan. For both new construction and conversions, if the developer intends to market 5 or more units within the next 12 months with FHA mortgage insurance, an Affirmative Fair Housing Marketing Plan (AFHMP) or a Voluntary Affirmative Marketing Agreement (VAMA) must be in place. An affirmative fair housing marketing plan requires that the racial, socioeconomic, and ethnic composition of the condominium residents closely mirror that of the neighboring area, to the greatest extent possible. Most new condominiums don’t have these in place.

Click here for the new FHA condominium guidelines. You can look to see whether a condominium is approved on the HUD Homes & Communities website located here. Here is the FHA Condominium Mortgage webpage.

The Impact: More Work For Lenders, Condominium Associations/Managers And Attorneys

I expect FHA lenders will approach condominium association boards and managers, asking for certain information, certifications, and even legal opinions regarding compliance with FHA (and Fannie Mae) legal requirements. If a condominium is not on the FHA-approved list, or has lost its approval, condominium associations should consider applying for approval (or re-approval). Reportedly, FHA/HUD is backlogged a month or more in reviewing submitted applications. Thus, should your condominium need to be submitted for approval, keep in mind the process may take some time. Also keep in mind that the work to compile and complete the application package itself can take weeks, and require the board, its manager, and legal counsel to gather data, documents, and expert opinions required for FHA approval. The package of materials that must be submitted can vary from condominium to condominium, and often requires an updated reserve study and certain legal opinions.

Our office is well equipped to assist lenders and buyers with FHA loan compliance issues as we have recently issued opinion letters and certifications under the similar Fannie Mae condominium regulations. Contact [email protected] for more information.

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