The following is a real estate news roundup:

Preston confirmed as housing secretary

Steve Preston has been unanimously approved by the Senate to serve as secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Preston was in charge of the Small Business Administration when President Bush nominated him to take charge of HUD in the wake of Housing Secretary Alphonso Jackson’s resignation (see Inman News story). In a statement, Bush called Preston "a strong leader whose understanding of our financial markets and strong management skills make him highly qualified to serve in this important position." It will be up to Preston to decide whether to push forward with HUD’s proposed changes to the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, or RESPA, in the face of strong opposition from some quarters of the industry (see story).

Mortgage bankers: Foreclosures up, applications down

The Mortgage Bankers Association reports that mortgage delinquencies, the rate of foreclosure starts and the percentage of loans in the foreclosure process are at the highest recorded levels since 1979. The group said the seasonally adjusted delinquency rate on one- to four-unit residential properties hit 6.35 percent at the end of the first quarter, up from 5.82 percent in the fourth quarter and 4.84 percent a year ago. The percentage of loans subject to foreclosure actions rose to 0.99 percent, up from 0.83 percent in the previous quarter and 0.58 percent a year ago. The percentage of loans in the foreclosure process was 2.47 percent, up from 2.04 percent in the fourth quarter and 1.28 percent a year ago. The increases were driven primarily by adjustable-rate mortgages, both prime and subprime, in California and Florida.

The MBA also reported that an index tracking mortgage applications for the week ending May 30 fell 15.3 percent from the previous week. The average interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages increased to 6.17 percent from 5.96 percent, with points decreasing to 1.06 from 1.11 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value (LTV) ratio loans. The average contract interest rate for one-year ARMs decreased to 6.8 percent from 6.92 percent, with points increasing to 1.44 from 1.42 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent LTV loans.

U.S. Comptroller critical of Fannie/Freddie appraisal pact

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency is questioning an agreement between New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, federal regulators, and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that’s intended to ensure the independence of the appraisal process and which would include limits on the use of in-house appraisers (see Inman News story).

Some of the largest national banks rely on in-house appraisers for most of their appraisal work, insulating them from loan production, Comptroller John Dugan said in a letter to James Lockhart, director of the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, which regulates Fannie and Freddie.

"They have found that their processes lead to accurate and better-quality appraisals, lower costs and lower delinquency and loan loss rates," Dugan said. "If the code forces lenders to change their appraisal processes and to adopt less efficient — and potentially less reliable — processes, some of these lenders estimate that their origination costs may increase by at least 20 percent — or about $80 more per loan." The costs will be passed on to consumers "with no corresponding increase in benefits to offset such costs."

Dugan said the OCC "strongly endorses the principle" that appraisers be free from coercion from lenders and brokers, but that the objective should be achieved through the enforcement of state and federal regulations, "not by dictating the corporate and internal organizational structures of lenders."

If the agreement goes into effect on Jan. 1, lenders who want to do business with Fannie and Freddie — which now guarantee or purchase three-quarters of all loans — would have to abide by its terms.

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