I think we all agree that the lack of regulation in the mortgage lending industry was a primary cause of the housing market collapse.  Not everyone with a pulse should qualify for a zero- down, $400,000 mortgage.  However, the new rules being proposed by the federal government could be the fatal blow to a struggling housing industry that is barely surviving on life-support.

The cornerstone of the proposal is the idea that the very best rates and terms for conventional loans would be reserved for the very best borrowers…..sounds somewhat reasonable, until you understand what an exclusive club that would be, and how difficult it would make buying for first-time or lower-income borrowers.

First, a 20% down payment would be required.  In some parts of the country, you can buy a nice home for $150,000, but even so that would mean a down payment of $30,000 – a big number for a lot of people.  But here inSan Diegowhere a nice 2 bedroom condo is going to cost you around $320,000, a buyer would need $64,000, which is most likely a staggering sum for anyone considering a condo purchase.

If you think that sounds a bit harsh, you’ll love the other suggested requirements for the so-called “Qualified Residential Mortgage” or QRM:

  • Strict debt-to-income ratios.  A max of 28% of gross monthly income could be used for housing expense and total monthly debt could not exceed 36%.  Currently, both Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae guidelines take other factors besides DTI into consideration, and Freddie can go up to an overall debt-to-income ratio of 45%.  And of course, this is fully documented income, so tough luck for the self-employed.
  • To refinance your existing loan for a better rate you would need a minimum of 25% equity, and if you wanted to take out any cash, 30% equity would be required.  Today’s requirements vary by lender, but are no where near that strict.
  • Pristine credit.  If you were 60 days late on any account in the past two years you would not qualify.

So to put this into perspective, let’s see what someone might be able to afford here inSan Diegowhere the median household income is $67,000.  Their total monthly housing expense, including tax and insurance could not exceed $1,563.  This means they could purchase a single family home for $295,000 (if they could find one that would qualify for conventional financing), but would need a down payment of $59,000.  Presuming their monthly take-home pay is $4,466 and they are currently renting a 2 bedroom apartment for $1200, and after all other expenses they could still manage to save $500 a month, it would take these would-be home buyers 9.8 years to save for the down payment!

What if you don’t qualify?  Get ready to pay-up.  The mortgage industry estimates that non-QRM rates will be from .75 – 3.00% higher, again pushing more people out of the market with higher rates.  So if you are like the majority of today’s borrowers and don’t have a big down payment, make an above average income and have perfect credit you could be paying 8.00% interest while the QRM borrower will pay just 5.00%.  Sounds really fair and I’m sure that will mean a big boost to the housing market, right?

This is a total over-reaction that threatens to kill the small gains and recovery that we’ve seen in the past year.  I agree that reforms are necessary, but requirements should not be so stringent that home ownership is only accessible to a privileged minority.  If only the wealthy can purchase a home, some of our troubled neighborhoods (where the QRM buyers won’t want to live themselves) will be owned by investors and would-be buyers will be doomed to a life-time of renting from them.  I don’t know about you, but to me this doesn’t sound like a way to re-build neighborhoods or salvage the American Dream of home ownership.

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