HO-6 condominium policy

Recent Fannie Mae (FNMA) condominium lending regulations are beginning to live up to the hype as having an onerous impact on condominium sales and project development. The changes, made in January 2009, were part of an effort by mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to limit risky lending in a segment of the housing market particularly hard hit by foreclosures in recent years.

Here is a brief overview of the Fannie Mae condo guideline changes:

  • For new construction and newly converted condominium developments, 70% of the units must be pre-sold (closed or under contract). This guideline is being increased from 51%.  This is the real Catch-22.  Fannie Mae won’t approve condominium mortgages unless 70% of the units are sold, but a developer cannot sell 70% of the units without buyers being able to obtain conventional Fannie Mae compliant mortgages. Buyers who run into problems here are being forced to get loans from small local banks who hold their own mortgages and are not bound by the FNMA guidelines.
  • No more than 15% of condominium units within a single project can be more than 30 days delinquent on condo fees. This is an existing guideline that is now being applied to new condominium projects. The requirement was also changed from being 15% of the total fee payments to 15% of total units.
  • Fidelity insurance will be required for condominiums with 20 or more units, ensuring that homeowner association funds are protected. Presently, this requirement applies to new projects and is now being extended to include established condominiums.
  • Borrowers must now obtain an HO-6 condominium unit owners insurance policy unless the condominium master policy provides interior unit coverage; coverage may not be less than 20% of the assessed value. A condominium owners policy, known as an HO-6 policy, typically covers personal property, personal liability, and the physical unit from the studs and in. Many policies also include special assessment coverage or the option to include a special assessment coverage rider. Click here for a more extensive post on HO-6 policies.
  • No more than 10% of a project can be owned by a single entity. Apparently, this was to keep the so-called “vulture buyers” from taking over project.
  • No more than 20% of a project can consist of non-residential space. The new guidelines therefore severely impact most mixed commercial-residential use projects, a highly popular development scheme.
  • The condominium/homeowners association must have at least 10% of its budgeted income designated in a capital reserve fund for replacement reserves and adequate funds budgeted for the insurance deductible. Many older condominium associations keep woefully inadequate reserves and operating budgets, so they are non-compliant.
  • No pending litigation involving the structural soundness, safety or habitability of the condominium project. Fannie Mae underwriters will reject financing if the condominium association is involved in litigation over the construction of the project. I’ve written about this more extensively here. Borrowers may ask for a waiver if they can establish adequate insurance coverage for the litigation or otherwise little or no risk of loss to the association.
  • Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have also boosted fees on mortgages for condominium units. Buyers without a minimum 25% down payment have to pay closing-cost fees equal to 0.75% of their loan, regardless of their credit score, under new rules that took effect in April. Fannie Mae has said it will drop that fee in August for cooperative apartments and detached condos.

According to a Fannie Mae, the guidelines can be modified for condominium projects on a case-by-case basis.  Therefore, these guidelines may not apply to all condo projects.

Click here for the guidelines.

What’s the impact of the changes?FNMA condominium guidelines

Certainly, the revised guidelines are negatively affecting condominium buyers’ ability to obtain conventional loans for either a new or established condominium if the project does not conform. Most notably, the changes are dramatically affecting new developments, especially in hard hit areas such as Florida and California.

Fannie Mae has already approved a number of projects. Click here for the full list of FNMA approved projects.

Through discussions with some fellow Massachusetts real estate professionals, the impact here in the Bay State is not as bad as some of the harder hit states, but it’s proving to be a major thorn in many transactions. Real estate attorneys on both sides of the table are working hard to get existing condominium developments in compliance with the new regulations.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who ironically spent the last year lambasting Fannie Mae for its questionable lending practices, is now calling for Fannie Mae to relax these guidelines. We’ll see what happens in D.C., and keep you posted on any changes coming down the pipeline.

Update:  Since I posted this article, I’ve been retained several times to issue attorney opinion letters certifying to a lender that a particular condominium project is in compliance with the new FNMA regulations. If you are in need of such an opinion letter, please contact Richard Vetstein at rvetstein@vetsteinlawgroup.com.

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