Yes, I Know It’s Confusing, But There Are Some Changes in Loan Rates

Social media has been abuzz lately with rumors about a new “tax” that is targeting high-credit score borrowers. Before you decide to stop paying your bills on time, I asked Jaxzann Riggs, owner of The Mortgage Network to explain as best she can what these changes are about.

She reminded me that we wrote about the shifts that had already begun in home loan pricing several months ago, when FHFA, the federal agency that supervises Fannie Mae (FNMA) and Freddie Mac (FHLMC), announced that changes were on the horizon.

FNMA and FHLMC are charged with providing liquidity, stability, and affordability to mortgage markets. Affordability is the key word here, especially for those borrowers within “underserved communities.” To support this priority, FNMA and FHLMC began changing Loan Level Price Adjustments, also referred to as LLPAs. These are adjustments made to the interest rates offered to borrowers based upon such criteria as credit score, loan-to-value (LTV) ratio, occupancy, property type, and debt-to-income (DTI) ratios.

In recent months, FHFA has announced many targeted changes to FNMA and FHLMC pricing. One example would be that first-time homebuyers who are at or below 100% of area median income (AMI) in most of the United States and below 120% of AMI in high-cost areas such as Denver may be offered rates that are lower than in the past. These changes signal a significant shift in lending philosophy with emphasis placed on those who may be “underserved.”

As an example, at the height of the COVID crisis, the cost of mortgages for second homes and investment properties was identical to that for primary residences. Currently the rate differential between an owner occupied home and an investment property or second home is over a full percentage point, making real estate investing much more expensive than during COVID.

The current change to LLPAs will, in some cases, reduce costs for those with lower credit scores and raise costs for those with higher credit scores, but, as shown in the graphic above from The Mortgage News Daily, the rumors are conflating the changes for the actual cost.  Let’s take a minute to look at that graphic.

The chart shows the changes to the previous LLPAs. The green represents the falling costs; the red represents rising costs. As you can see, there is clearly no scenario where someone with lower credit will have a lower interest rate after adjustments are made.

While the change in LLPAs does result in a tweak of an existing fee structure in favor of those with lower credit scores, you can also see that there are instances where costs have lowered (green) for those with a high credit score. A low credit score borrower isn’t paying less than a high credit score buyer, but the gap between what they pay is simply smaller than it was previously.

According to the Federal Housing Finance Agency, while some fees are being eliminated for lower-income buyers and lower credit score buyers, and fees are being increased for some buyers with higher credit scores, the two are not cause-and effect.

“Higher-credit-score borrowers are not being penalized or charged more so that lower-credit-score borrowers can pay less,” they said in a statement. “Some updated fees are higher, and some are lower, in differing amounts. They do not represent pure decreases for high-risk borrowers or pure increases for low-risk borrowers.”

I know that these topics can be confusing, and rumors can be overwhelming to debunk. If you are shopping for a home loan, Jaxzann would be happy to provide an interest rate quote for you. You can reach her anytime on her cell phone at 303-990-2992.  Tell her you saw this column..

It Pays to Be Aware of Recent FHFA Changes to Lending Rates and Rules

We are barely six weeks into 2023 and already, we are  feeling  the effects of  “pent up demand” for housing. Denver’s real estate market is rebounding and the advantages that buyers had in the last few months are declining as the “Spring Selling Season” unfolds. Consumer confidence, unemployment numbers and inflation have been in the news recently, and while those factors certainly impact the cost of residential home loans, there are other upcoming changes in the industry that aren’t as well known. I asked Jaxzann Riggs, owner of The Mortgage Network, to elaborate.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) has announced changes that will affect the cost of home ownership for many borrowers starting in March.

Established in 2008, FHFA was created to restore confidence in the mortgage market and to provide supervision and regulation over Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Federal Home Loan Banks. FHFA has made it their mission to prevent a repeat of the housing collapse and promote stability so that Americans can buy homes with confidence, especially those within underserved communities.

FHFA has announced targeted changes to Fannie Mae (FNMA) and Freddie Mac (FHLMC) pricing by eliminating added interest rate adjustments called Loan Level Price Adjustments (LLPAs) for certain borrowers and affordable mortgage products. There are requirements to qualify, but one example would be first-time homebuyers who are at or below 100 percent of the area median income (AMI) in most of the United States and below 120 percent of the AMI in high-cost areas such as Denver.

Traditionally, LLPAs have been added to interest rates to account for higher risks such as lower credit scores, low down payments, and property types, such as condominiums. Eliminating these LLPAs can lower the offered interest rate by up to 1.75%, which makes a substantial difference in a monthly mortgage payment. These changes will help to make home ownership easier for underserved and first-time buyers.

To support FHFA’s priorities, lenders will offer new mortgage programs that allow individuals to make down payments of only 3% and, in an effort  to help first-time and lower-income buyers enter the housing market, a portion of the 3% down payment can actually be borrowed.

While Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and FHA are reducing the interest rates being offered to first-time and lower-income buyers, they are increasing the interest rates being charged to other home buyers. We have already seen a dramatic increase in the cost of loans for individuals purchasing a second home or investment property, and additional increases are expected in the next couple of months. These changes signal a significant shift in lending philosophy. At the height of the COVID crisis, the cost of mortgages for second homes and investment properties was identical to that for primary residences.

Currently the price differential between an owner-occupied home and an investment property is over a full percentage point, making real estate investing much more expensive than in recent years.

While credit scores have influenced the cost of money for over a decade, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will now increase interest rates for those with mid-level FICO scores. In the past, the percentage of income (debt to income ratio or DTI) that a borrower used for housing had no impact on the cost of the loan. Soon a borrower’s DTI ratio will be factored into the cost of loan — the higher the DTI, the higher the rate.

You may have questions about the changes. Do you qualify? What is the best loan option for your personal circumstances? Reach out to Jaxzann Riggs of The Mortgage Network, 303-990-2992, for answers.

Interestingly, ‘Seller Concessions’ Can Benefit Both Buyers & Sellers

If you’ve been following my “Real Estate Today” column, you know that homes are taking longer to sell, and in some areas sales prices have decreased slightly.

Jaxzann Riggs, owner of The Mortgage Network, has been serving Colorado borrowers for 37+ years and she has witnessed more market fluctuations than I have in my 20 years. I asked her what “old and new” marketing and financing strategies she suggests for both buyers and sellers in this dynamic market.

   Her response: “First, buyers need to understand their highest priorities. Is investing the smallest amount of cash their priority, or are they more interested in minimizing the monthly housing expense in the early years of the loan? If they expect to own the property for many years, having the lowest possible 30-year fixed rate may be the highest priority. Buyers who are fortunate enough to be paying cash for a home are normally looking for the lowest possible purchase price, in which case seller concessions won’t matter to them.”

Let’s analyze each goal and how a seller concession built into a purchase contract can help you.

Goal #1:  Lowest Cash to Close

If your income is good and you are not concerned about your monthly housing expense, but you don’t have much cash to work with, a popular seller concession is one that covers your closing costs. That way, you only need cash for the down payment.

Goal #2:  Lowest Payment in the Early Years of Your Mortgage

If your income is likely to increase in the near future, and you want to minimize your monthly housing expenses until your pay increases or you receive an expected bonus, a temporary interest rate buydown funded by a seller concession might make sense. The simplest explanation of this strategy is that the buydown subsidizes a reduced monthly mortgage for the first one or two years of the mortgage.

Goal #3:  Lowest Interest Rate for the Term of the Mortgage

If this is a property that you expect to own for many years, it makes sense to ask for a seller concession that is utilized to buy the interest rate down on your mortgage for its full term.

So, the next question is, what is a reasonable dollar amount for a borrower to request from the seller as a concession? Each borrower and seller circumstance will vary, so there is no set rule, although Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac underwriting guidelines limit the seller to a contribution of 6% of the sales price (or 3% if the borrower is making a minimum down payment).

Seller concessions may only be utilized to offset closing costs, reduce the interest rate on a temporary or permanent basis, or to prepay mortgage insurance on behalf of the borrower. Seller concessions may NOT be used to reduce the down payment made by the borrower.

It might surprise a prospective buyer to understand the different impacts that a seller concession versus a price reduction can have on the monthly cost of their mortgage. And it might surprise sellers to learn that offering a concession in the form of an interest rate buydown can increase the pool of prospective buyers.

I am happy to explore buyer and seller wants, needs, and goals. Structuring a seller concession so that both buyer and seller benefit is possible once all parties agree upon the anticipated appraised value of a property. Of course, this is best done with the assistance of an experienced Realtor like me who knows how to evaluate the market trends in a particular community.

    If you are buying or selling and have questions about the different possible concessions, call Jaxzann at 303-990-2992.

Changes Announced to 2nd Home & Jumbo Loans, Self-Employed Borrowers and Appraisal Fees  

I received a call this week from Jaxzann Riggs, owner of The Mortgage Network informing me of several changes occurring at FNMA and FHLMC that may “level” the playing field for some purchasers.

Roughly 17% of the homes sold in the last 12 months in the Denver metro area have been sold to investors, according to an article in the Denver Post. Demand for second homes has also skyrocketed, as newly remote workers seek more space and better surroundings. Until now, those purchasers were able to obtain loans with interest rates that were comparable to those being offered to purchasers who would be occupying their new home as their primary residence.

On Jan. 5th Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (FNMA and FHLMC) jointly announced new “loan-level price adjustments” (or LLPAs) for high-balance, investment and second home loans. An LLPA is a risk–based fee assessed to mortgage borrowers using a conventional mortgage. Loan pricing adjustments vary by borrower, based on loan traits such as loan-to-value (LTV), credit score, occupancy type, and the number of units in a home. Borrowers often pay LLPAs in the form of higher mortgage rates. Increasing the LLPAs on high-balance, investment and second homes makes interest rates less attractive for the buyers and allows FNMA and FHLMC to offer new programs to help first-time or lower-income homebuyers.

Other recent changes by FNMA and FHLMC help self-employed borrowers.  They have rescinded rules imposed in June 2020 requiring self-employed borrowers to supply a year-to-date P&L as well as their most recent 2 or 3 months of bank statements. This reduction in paperwork should make it much easier for self-employed borrowers to obtain financing.

Another benefit may be found in the potential for lower appraisal fees. With the current red hot housing market, demand for appraisers is outstripping the supply, pushing up fees and extending appraisal completion times. Enter technology. Fannie Mae will allow desktop appraisals for certain loans submitted after March 19. This technology may help alleviate the appraiser shortage in the long term and lower appraisal costs in the current market. Jaxzann reminded me that she pays for her clients’ appraisals so they can be ordered immediately upon acceptance of a purchaser’s offer. With the ability to obtain desktop appraisals, Jaxzann expects that loan approvals can consistently be obtained in two weeks.

Though median home prices have shot up in the last two years (by 25%, according to HUD), what hasn’t changed is that people still need their homes to serve as an anchor for their life.

If you are in the market for a jumbo loan, things have gotten easier. A jumbo loan is a mortgage that exceeds the conforming loan limit set by the federal government. Jumbo loans — meant to finance expensive properties — cannot be purchased or securitized by FNMA and FHLMC. Loan amounts above $684,250 are considered “jumbo” and often have higher standards for approval. 

While people typically assume you need 10% down for a jumbo loan, there are currently products that allow as little as 3.5% down. This can free up some of your savings for being more competitive in this market, using funds for escalation causes, appraisal gaps, updates if the house isn’t in dream home condition.

Yes, today’s market can make buying a home stressful, but working with an experienced professional like Jaxzann Riggs will allow you to navigate its challenges. Call her at 303-990-2992 with your lending questions.

It’s Suddenly Much Easier to Qualify for a Refinance of Your Home Mortgage

Refinancing has been all the buzz this year. Many homeowners have taken advantage of record-low rates to refinance their homes. Unfortunately, lower-income borrowers, especially those who lost income streams due to Covid-19, were unable to refinance because of income requirements. According to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), over two million families could not refinance in 2020 when they might have benefited from it. As of June 5, 2021, this is no longer the case. Lower-income homeowners may now potentially save hundreds of dollars per month on their mortgage under a government initiative called “RefiNow.”

I spoke with Jaxzann Riggs of The Mortgage Network to learn about this program.

We have all heard the term “refinancing,” but you may not know why someone might consider refinancing. Homeowners choose to refinance their mortgage for different reasons. Refinancing your home could allow you to secure a lower interest rate, which lowers monthly payments, to shorten the duration of your mortgage, to switch to a fixed-rate mortgage, or to access equity.

While refinancing may sound ideal for your situation, the process and guidelines post-COVID have been quite strict and restrictive. One important factor in qualifying for refinancing is your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio. Your DTI is the percentage of your gross monthly income that you pay each month towards your debt and other obligations, including mortgage, minimum credit card payments, car loans, and student loans. Traditional loans require DTI to be under a certain threshold to refinance — typically under a maximum of 44%. Many people, especially service industry workers and small business owners, lost their jobs and sources of income during the pandemic, and the regulation regarding DTI was an obstacle to refinancing. RefiNow may be able to change that.

RefiNow, Fannie Mae’s new refinance option, makes it easier for homeowners earning at or below 80% of their area median income (AMI) to refinance at a lower interest rate to reduce their monthly payment. This new program is designed to lower the barriers that keep low-income borrowers from refinancing, which have historically resulted in those borrowers refinancing at a slower pace than higher-income borrowers. With RefiNow, you are allowed to have a DTI of up to 65% (instead of 44%) and you will be given an appraisal credit of up to $500. The new program does not just benefit homeowners, it helps lenders because it improves the probability that homeowners who may have been struggling to make their current payments will be able to make future payments, resulting in fewer pandemic related foreclosures. Don’t despair if your loan is owned by Freddie Mac (FHLMC). Freddie is slated to offer a similar loan program in the next few weeks.

To qualify for RefiNow, you must have:

> A Fannie Mae-backed mortgage secured by a one-unit, principal residence. Unsure? Go to https://www.KnowYourOptions.com/loanlookup

> A current income at or below 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI) This varies by census tract, but your lender can look this up for you.

> Not have missed a mortgage payment in the past six months, and no more than one missed mortgage payment in the past 12 months.

> A debt-to-income ratio of 65% or less, and a minimum 620 FICO score (minimum 660 FICO score for manufactured homes).

> A reduction of at least $50 per month on the new loan and you may not access any of your equity.

If you are not sure if a RefiNow loan is right for you, reach out to Jaxzann Riggs at (303) 990-2992 with any questions and to discuss your best options.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly About Mortgage Loan Forbearance

A record number of homeowners entered into a forbearance plan for their mortgage over the past year amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. Forbearance — an option that allows borrowers to pause payments on their mortgage for a limited amount of time due to an unforeseen hardship — served as a veritable lifeline for many people who found themselves unexpectedly out of work and unable to pay their mortgage as COVID restrictions tightened.

As more time passes, however, it is apparent that issues stemming from forbearance are starting to surface. While this is not an immediate cause for panic if your own mortgage has been in forbearance, being aware of issues that others are facing will help to keep you prepared for any trouble that arises.

For that reason, I had a Zoom meeting this week with Jaxzann Riggs, owner of The Mortgage Network in Denver, to learn more about complications that forbearance may bring about.

When the CARES Act was initially passed back in March 2020, it included a provision for mortgage forbearance, making it relatively easy for millions of borrowers with government backed mortgages to enter into such a program. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two largest servicers of government backed loans, subsequently issued an extensive list of guidelines for lenders in response to Covid-specific forbearance.

One of the most crucial guidelines involved credit score reporting. An account in for-bearance must continue to be reported as current, provided it was current prior to the forbearance plan. Due to the vast number of people who entered into forbearance in such a short time period, it is especially important to monitor your credit score — but that is not necessarily the end of the story.

Some borrowers who were previously in forbearance that are now applying for new loans are discovering that their issue does not lie with the credit reporting bureaus themselves but with the underwriting on their new loan. Underwriters, who are primarily responsible for qualifying a borrower for a loan from a specific lender, have a significant amount of discretion when it comes to approving an application. The consequence of this is that borrowers who would otherwise be well qualified to purchase — with high credit scores, steady employment, and a significant down payment — may find themselves struggling to obtain the loan they are seeking if they previously had a loan in forbearance. Although Fannie’s and Freddie’s guidelines include specifics for underwriting, the sometimes unfortunate reality is that these guidelines can be interpreted differently by different underwriters.

If you had a loan in forbearance sometime this past year and are now considering a new purchase or refinance, you should not immediately despair. Maintaining meticulous records that indicate when you initially applied for forbearance and being able to produce all communications with your current lender to the new lender are essential. If you have entered the repayment phase of the loan it is critical that the repayment agreement is followed exactly as written.

Because forbearance was originally intended to help those that had a loss of income or employment due to COVID, underwriters are scrutinizing employment history and the likelihood of it continuing for all borrowers. Borrowers that did not have any change in employment status during the pandemic but who entered into a forbearance agreement should be prepared to outline for the new lender their motivations for entering forbearance and to additionally explain how they will be able to avoid forbearance in the future. This is a bit ironic, in that lenders strongly encouraged many to utilize the options afforded them under the CARES Act. If you have questions about how forbearance may impact your future lending, I recommend, as always, that you consult Jaxzann Riggs of The Mortgage Network. You can reach her anytime on her cell phone, 303-990-2992.

Higher Loan Limits and Lower Rates Improve Affordability for Homebuyers

By JIM SMITH, Realtor

Both the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) and the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), which regulates Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, have been in the headlines in the past couple weeks with their respective announcements that they will be raising mortgage loan limits for 2021. I exchanged emails with Jaxzann Riggs, owner of The Mortgage Network in Denver, to learn more about loan limits and what their implications are for potential purchasers. Here’s what I learned from her.

Jaxzann Riggs

Although loan limits have been around for many years for both conventional loans (loans that conform to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s loan standards) and FHA loans, (loans insured against default by the Federal government) the Housing and Economic Recovery Act (HERA) of 2008 has largely shaped how we know them today. The 2008 act established a base loan limit of $417,000 for conventional loans and, due to the declining price trend in the real estate market at the time, also included a mandate that this baseline limit would not increase until prices rose to previous levels. In 2016, FHFA increased loan limits for the first time in ten years, and they have increased every year since. HERA also mandated that FHA set loan limits at 115% of area median house prices, with a floor and ceiling on both limits.

2021 will see conventional loan limits for single-unit properties increase from $510,400 to $548,250 as a baseline. High-cost areas (which always included places like Aspen and Boulder, but now also includes the metro area) have a maximum loan limit that is a multiple of the area’s median home value, up to 150% of the baseline. Denver, Jefferson, Adams, Arapahoe, Broomfield, and Douglas counties will all be seeing an increase from $575,000 to $596,850. Boulder county increases to $654,350. The increase in these limits means that more borrowers will be able to qualify for a conventional loan versus having to obtain a high-balance or jumbo loan, which typically come with higher interest rates.

It’s important to remember that purchase price does not necessarily correlate with loan limits. If a borrower plans, for example, to purchase a $750,000 property but puts a significant amount of money down, thus bringing their loan amount under the conforming limit, they can still qualify for a conventional loan.

The FHA has also increased loan limits for 2021, with a national conforming limit of $548,250. In the majority of the Denver metro area the loan limit has increased to $596,850, up from $575,000 in 2020. The FHA’s loan limit increases are tied closely to the FHFA’s conventional loan limit increases.

Although loan limits are most frequently mentioned in terms of single-family homes or one-unit properties, both conventional and FHA loans also impose limits on duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes. These increase at the same time and at the same frequency as single-unit loan limits. In the case of the FHA, which also insures Home Equity Conversion Mortgages —  also known as HECMs or Reverse mortgages — there will be a 2021 limit increase to $822,375. Unlike traditional loan limits, this increase applies across the board, regardless of what market the home is located in.

2021 is sure to be a year of changes, and mortgage loan limits are no exception. The increase in limits for both FHA and conventional loans matched with historically low rates and 3-3.5% down payment options just might be the ticket to purchasing your dream home.

Regardless of what loan type you are seeking, I recommend giving Jaxzann Riggs with The Mortgage Network a call today at (303) 990-2992.