When it comes to buying a house, are you in the “no way I could possibly qualify” category? Not enough cash in the bank for a down payment or closing costs? Credit scores good, but not great? So much deferred student loan debt that you assume any lender would slam the door?
Join the crowd. Large numbers of Americans feel the same, in part because they read and hear that qualifying standards for mortgages are the strictest they’ve been in decades. A study based on a statistical sample of potential homebuyers conducted earlier in the year by the mortgage company loanDepot found that nearly 60 percent of people who say they want to buy a home aren’t pursuing it because they think there’s just no point — they are convinced their applications would be rejected. Three-quarters of them, however, concede that they haven’t done a thing to check out current lender requirements.
But here’s some good news for these folks: Changes are underway in the mortgage market that could give you a better shot at qualifying. Start with recent policy shifts at giant mortgage investors Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two dominant funding sources for new loans. Late in November, both companies announced procedural changes that should encourage lenders to be less fearful that the mortgages they approve will be subject to costly “buy back” demands if borrowers go delinquent.
In a buy back, an investor such as Fannie Mae requires the lender who originated the mortgage to repurchase it because of alleged defects in underwriting that ultimately led to the borrower’s non-payments. To avoid buy backs, lenders in recent years not only have ratcheted up their underwriting requirements, but have added extra fees — so-called “overlays” — that are designed to compensate them for losses on loans to borrowers who have below-average credit scores, small down payments and minimal assets in reserve.
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