The only people that get hurt on a roller coaster ride jump off in the middle. Most folks are watching the perils of Wall Street, listening to Jim Kramer rail against the attitude of the Federal Reserve and being bombarded with newscasts that predict the end of the world as we know it.
It just isn’t true.
The truth is – many lenders chose to go the expedient route of desktop underwriting on mortgage loans. The underwriting process factored in data such as income, employment and your FICO score. The internet became the “deadbeats” best friend. There were some people that did not have a good job history. There were some people that did not have verifiable income. There were some people that had low FICO scores.
You could go on line and pay a company to verify whatever job you chose to claim. You could just tell the loan officer how much money you made and if it made sense with the job you created, you could just state your income. That would work as long as your FICO score was high enough. But you don’t have a good FICO score…?
There was this nifty loop hole in the FICO system that allowed you to be added as an authorized user to someone with good credit. That’s right, you could just pay a fee and have your name added and BINGO …up goes your credit rating.
All of the sudden, anyone with a pulse (and access to nefarious firms on line) could get a mortgage. The smiling loan officer would just ask…how much do you want to say you can pay each month. Lies were told, paperwork was signed and loans were quickly resold. The valuble loan officer was the one that could close loans that would last 3 or 4 months before defaulting. (If the loan was sold and payments were made for a few months, the purchasor could not demand that the loan be sold back).
First it was the sub-prime loans that began to go bad. The larger lenders sat back and smugly shared sound bites “We don’t make those kinds of loans.” The lenders that did make them are now pretty much history. Any reputable lender that did have some on their books, stopped underwriting them. The fall out was the demise of the sub prime business. Eye brows were raised and investors were stunned to see they were not going to get that big return. The question was raised…how could this happen?
Very old axiom….if you lend money to people that do not have the ability or inclination to repay it…you will lose your money!
The dust had barely cleared when larger lenders began to run into what they called “liquidity problems”. If everyday terms, the investors began to feel the pinch and they reduced how much they were willing to pay. American Home Mortgage was the largest recent victim(?).
Now, rumors run rampant that Countrywide will fall. They did run into a problem. It is significant to note that the other big banks lent them the money to continue operations. They have announced some changes. Those changes portend tomorrow.
The TRUTH ABOUT TOMMOROW!
The situation has no relationship to chicken little or a fallng sky. Lenders have tightened their requirements. Jumbo loans (those over $417,000) are more expensive to get. There is still money for mortgages. The lenders are just beginning to focus on those loans that are guaranteed by Freddie Mac, Ginnie Mae and Fannie Mae. They need to make sure that the loans they make will be purchased.
It would seem to me that if the money pool remains the same, and companies are focusing on conforming loans, the housing market is in better shape than most understand. If the pool of money used to fund Jumbo loans is not being used, that money will have to be lent to someone. The amount of money that will be available to the conforming folks will increase. Remember, the lenders only have a chance at making money when the actually lend money.
In case you haven’t noticed, buyers at the lower end of the scale have not been knocking down doors to get loans lately. There are several things that have spooked them. The media with it’s continuing gloom and doom soundbites has tempered enthusiasm. The month after month increase of the interest rates when the Feds meet has created the illusion that interest rates are high. The increase in the cost of living on day to day things like gasoline, dairy products and basic entertainment (like a family nite at the ball park) has them worried about the future.
Lenders will have to take a long look at the potential pool of borrowers and come up with a way to entice them back into the housing market. The federal government will have to come up with a way to stave off the recessionary possibilities that now exist. One answer will solve both problems. Interest rates will come down a bit. It won’t take much. A quarter point drop on Sept 18th or before will resonate across the market place with the power of the started at the Indy 500 intoning “gentlemen, start your engines”.
Real estate has always been a bottom up industry. The people that buy the $200,000 home enable the seller of that home to become the buyer of the $300,000 home and so on. It is sort of a trickle up effect. We will have more money available to the first time buyer or the buyer purchasing property at the lower end of pricing. Those sales will trickle up and we will see a return to housing sales.
This is not to say that we will return to the days of escalating prices and homes sellng for 10% or more over the asking price. Those days were fueled by lies and those lies have seen the light of day. Prices will probably go up in accordance with other costs in the economy…no more and no less.
Realtors will once again pre-qualify buyers and listing agents will take a longer look at the ability of buyers to purchase their listings. It used to be that way.
You see, real estate agents got lazy too. They opted for the “talk to your lender and bring me a pre-approval letter and then we can go look for homes”. They passed the buck and responsibility onto the lender. The lender passed the buck to the desk top underwriting system and various documents that were not verified. Folks selling homes were willing to accept offers as long as the money got to the settlement table. Everyone turned a blind eye to reality.
As I have shared…those chickens have come home to roost. The absolute truth about tomorrow is that everyone will be more careful. Loan applicants will actually have to be credit worthy. The housing market will improve.