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New Mortgage Rules

Some Builders Like New Mortgage Rules, But Toll Calls Them “Dumb

A Pulte home being built in Phoenix.
Getty Images

Some home builders are heralding federal regulators’ move this week to ease mortgage-qualification standards  as a key to reviving the entry-level market but at least one is panning it as a return to dangerous lending.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency indicated this week it will expand mortgage availability with changes such as allowing borrowers to make a down payment of 3% of a loan’s value rather than the typical 20% for a high-quality mortgage.

On Thursday, two national builders reporting quarterly results touted the change as key to bringing first-time buyers back into the market. First-time buyers accounted for an average of 29% of new home sales from 2001 to 2011, according to the National Association of Home Builders. But this year that figure has dropped to an estimated 16% , because of tepid job and wage growth, mounting student debt and tight lending standards.

“I don’t think anybody is a proponent for going back to what happened in 2006 or 2007 at all, but a little common sense goes a long way,” said Larry Nicholson, chief executive of builder Ryland Group Inc., in a conference call with investors Thursday, adding, “I do think it helps the entry-level buyer with the 97% (loan-to-value) program. I think that will get some people off the fence.”

Richard Dugas, CEO of builder PulteGroup Inc., called the proposed changes “a positive statement” during his quarterly conference call with investors on Thursday. “Over time, as some of these ideas get put into practice, it certainly has the potential to affect activity, particularly for the entry-level category,” Mr. Dugas said.

But a different view was expressed Wednesday by Robert Toll, founder and executive chairman of luxury home builder Toll Brothers Inc., during remarks at a Urban Land Institute conferencein New York. He called the proposed loosening of credit standards “a really dumb-ass idea.”

“Yeah, we have a slow recovery, but it appears to be going to continue,” Mr. Toll said, adding, “Why do we want to go do what got us into this problem in the first place? … Three percent down doesn’t make any sense.”

Mr. Toll concluded that lenders have required a 20% down payment on top-rated mortgages for decades “and we had a hell of a housing program.”

Mr. Toll has a little less at risk than do other homebuilders. His company caters to affluent buyers, selling homes at an average price of $717,000. Pulte and Ryland, by contrast, serve more entry-level buyers than Toll, though they sell to others as well.

Quarterly results released by Pulte and Ryland on Thursday reflected a new-home market that remains stuck between neutral and slow growth. Pulte reported inking 3,779 sales contracts in its third quarter, flat from the year-ago period when analysts expected a gain of 5%. Ryland posted a 7.2% increase in orders to 1,707 when analysts expected a double-digit gain.

Ryland’s average selling price registered $331,000, up 11.1% from a year earlier after gains in the high teen percentages earlier in 2014, according to Raymond James & Associates analyst Buck Horne.

Toll, for its part, reported in September a 6% decline in orders in its latest quarter, which ended July 31.

The Advantages to a Mortgage Preapproval

The homebuying process can be exciting, but also stressful. When there are a large number of buyers in the market for real estate, the odds of being able to purchase your desired home can be low. However, getting a mortgage preapproval prior to home shopping can dramatically increase the odds of success.

Make Mortgage Preapproval Your First Step

A mortgage preapproval should be a homebuyer’s first step when purchasing a home. A borrower can choose to meet with a lender or get an initial preapproval via the Internet. The preapproval process is similar to the actual mortgage process and will, in fact, eliminate a lot of time after a home has been chosen.

When obtaining a mortgage preapproval, the borrower will complete a mortgage application and submit the necessary documentation to the lender. The lender will pull a credit report and examine the borrower’s credit.

Based on all of this information, the lender will determine the amount of funds that the borrower qualifies for. The borrower will receive a Conditional Commitment, which states the amount of funds that the lender agrees to lend provided that the conditions are met. While a preapproval is an important first step, it is not the final mortgage approval.

Impress Homesellers With Your Mortgage Preapproval

One of the advantages of having a preapproval is that this letter can be shown to real estate agents and sellers when looking for a home. By doing so, both the agent and the seller know that the borrower can qualify for a certain amount of funds. It is proof of the borrower’s financial standing and ability to proceed with the home purchase.

Another advantage is that some of the work that is involved in obtaining a mortgage is already done. The lender has already examined the borrower’s financial situation, including credit, income and assets. During the preapproval process, the lender will also discuss the most appropriate type of mortgage program that fits the borrower’s needs, whether it is a conventional loan or a government loan.

This is significant because not all sellers will accept a buyer who is using a government loan. Knowing the details of what type of loan is appropriate for the borrower, the agent can then show them homes that will fit their preapproval both for cost and type of funding.

How Mortgage Preapproval is Determined

The preapproval is determined by putting the information given to the lender through automated underwriting. In most cases, the preliminary loan file goes through a preprocessing before the preapproval is given to the borrower. Since there is an actual examination of the borrower’s documentation, the borrower will also receive a list of additional information that may be needed. The borrower can then submit this information while shopping for a home.

Once a home is found and the sales contract is signed, processing the loan is faster since most of the work for the credit file has been done. The final process involves verifications, ordering and receiving the appraisal, ordering title documents, obtaining insurance, etc. The final underwriting is the last step before the loan file is sent for closing.

The preapproval process is an important part of a home purchase. Since there is a lot of information involved in obtaining a mortgage, it eliminates many last minute problems that can arise. Obtaining a mortgage preapproval helps the home purchase process go smoothly.

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