What will lending standards look like 6 mos. or a year from now? Will lenders with more stringent qualifying standards be a drag on the market? At minimum, it will change the complexion of the pool of buyers. Some ramifications of tighter standards that come to mind:
- reduces ability of consumers with credit blemishes to purchase a home as easily as before.
- it may take longer for loans to be pushed through, because
- borrowers may have to provide more verifiable documentation.
- lenders may look more carefully at appraisals and implement other safeguards to reduce fraud.
- reducing the probablity of those buying a home with questionable credit from getting into financial trouble (which leads to distressed properties which leads to downward pressure of prices)
- a more stable and credit seasoned pool of borrowers, leads to stable and healthy markets.
- housing affordability becomes much more tied to economic fundamentals vs speculation and artificial housing appreciation.
Over the last three years or so, qualifying for a mortage has been absurdly easy. There is no doubt about it. When my wife and I bought our first house (670 sq ft) in Ballard, I barely qualified for an FHA ARM. I think the underwriters were cringing and looking away when they stamped it “approved.” We had to provide bank statements, two yrs. of tax returns and more.
Today, borrowers with average to low credit scores could get a loan with virtually little oversight. What program buyers qualified for largely depended upon borrowers credit scores. In the end, it really came down to the interest rate you were going to pay. It was never a matter of “if” you could get a loan, rather, it came down to the interest rate and program you were placed in.
In hindsight, most first time homebuyers that closed their purchase transactions though our escrow office put little to nothing down over the last three years. It is still going on today, but not nearly at the tempo that our office experienced in all of 2005 through summer of 2006. First time home buyers drive the market, providing impetus for sellers to move up into a home that suits their current lifestyle. For many, that meant moving to new construction housing. If the first time buyer market slows, everything down stream slows as well.
Through my direct discussion with loan officers, some have indicated that lenders are scrutinizing transactions more carefully. One indicated that a recent appraisal was required to add more comparable homes and provide interior photos of the subject property being purchased.
WMC, a large national lender and a wholly owned subsidiary of GE Finance (my spouse has now informed me that WMC is no longer, but is now taking the GE name) is slated to eliminate all 100% financing with borrowers having FICO scores below 700. Further, they are financing first time home buyers (FTHB’s) at a 95% cap. I take this to mean that FTHB’s will need a 5% down payment. This is quite the turnaround from the loose lending standards we have seen.
If lending standards tighten with or without government intervention, certainly it will have an impact on the ability of buyers with marginal credit to become a homeowner. Those with existing mortgages may find it more difficult to refinance. I can’t help but think of all the 100% financed borrower transactions our office has closed—borrowers that may not have qualified (nor closed) if these guidelines were in place today. In 2005, that meant 71% of our purchase/sale business would have never existed as it did (hard swallow).
Generally, with sales trending slower than in months past, stricter qualifying standards may have enough impact to slow sales further. I hope it does not, but I don’t see the alternative as being realistic. The upside is that the pool of homebuyers may move towards more traditional mortgage products, such as fixed rates. More stringent qualifying standards is a good thing for the market long-term, even if the short-term prognosis is discomfort.