Thursday, July 2, 2009

Expanding the Obama Housing Plan

Since the housing market is still falling, there is hope that expanding the plan will slow the pace of foreclosures. It may help some. But the big problem now is the ripple affect from unemployment levels. In addition, for all the controversy about the original housing plan, it had very little impact. This article in the US News titled Obama's Housing Rescue Expands: 6 Things to Know describes the loosing of some of the rules. Lets take a look at the first five -

1. Fannie/Freddie only: Despite the higher loan-to-value ceiling, the original framework of the program remains in tact. For example, only borrowers with loans owned or guaranteed by government-controlled housing finance giants Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac can participate. At the same time, borrowers need to be current on their mortgage to qualify.

2. Falling prices, less equity: The expansion of the qualification parameters comes as the real estate market continues to erode. Home prices in 20 major metropolitan areas fell by more than 18 percent in April from a year earlier, according the Case-Shiller home price index. Among other things, sliding home prices suck equity out of homes. Because of plunging values, more than a fifth of American homeowners were considered "underwater"—meaning they owe more on their mortgages than the property is worth—in the first quarter of this year, according to Zillow. This evaporation of home equity threw sand in the gears of the administration's refinancing initiative. That's because the original terms of the program precluded borrowers with mortgages exceeding 105 percent of their home's value from participating. But by expanding the loan-to-value cap to 125 percent, even borrowers who are significantly underwater will be eligible to refinance through Uncle Sam.

3. Efforts so far: When it rolled out the initiative earlier this year, the Obama administration said the refinancing program could reach up to 5 million homeowners. But in its release yesterday, HUD acknowledged that only "tens of thousands" of refinancings have occurred so far.

4. Expanded reach: The new standards could make up to 2 million additional borrowers eligible to refinance through the program, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which regulates Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. "This program could assist many homeowners who otherwise would have difficulty refinancing due to declining house prices," FHFA Director James Lockhart said yesterday.

5. Mortgage rate hurdle: But not all of those 2 million additional borrowers will end up refinancing. Some won't meet other program requirements, such as being current on their loan. But it's the recent upward trend in mortgage rates that represents perhaps the biggest threat to the program's success. Refinancing applications surged last fall and winter, after the federal government engineered mortgage rates of below 5 percent. But as bond traders became rattled by sharp increases in government spending, they sent yields on 10-year treasury notes—which fixed mortgage rates typically tack—skyward in recent months. As a result, mortgage rates surged, hitting 5.81 percent on June 11, according to

We are surprised that the housing plan has made such a small impact. But just like Hope Now really did not make much of an impact. Sometimes it seems like nothing will stop the downward spiral other than hitting the actual bottom.

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