FHA says flip away — within limits

Temporary waiver of 90-day 'anti-flipping' rule extended through 2014

Good news for single-family home investors, rehabbers and buyers seeking to use low down payment FHA financing: The temporary waiver of FHA’s 90-day "anti-flipping" rule was extended last week through 2014.

The waiver, which facilitates purchases of homes from sellers who have held title to their properties for less than 90 days, continues a policy first adopted by the Obama administration in 2010.

Starting in 2003, FHA had imposed the 90-day standard as part of an effort to rein in rampant quick-flips of houses where investors made minimal or no improvements to rundown, foreclosed or abandoned houses, then sold them days or weeks later at high price markups with the help of inflated appraisals to purchasers using FHA loans.

Those flips frequently involved collusion and fraud by teams of mortgage loan officers, realty agents and appraisers — even straw buyers who defaulted and disappeared without making a single payment — and racked up significant losses to FHA’s insurance fund. Neighborhoods suffered because the properties remained empty and in bad physical condition, depressing values of houses in the immediate vicinity.

Since 2011, FHA has made annual extensions of its waiver. This year, an FHA official told me Friday, the agency opted for a two-year term in order "to provide greater levels of certainty" for lenders and buyers, removing questions about whether, and for how long, the waiver would be continued. Since the first waiver in 2010, according to the official, FHA has successfully insured $11 billion worth of mortgages on 65,250 homes where the seller had held title for less than 90 days.

In a Federal Register notice Nov. 29 announcing the extension, Acting FHA Commissioner Carol J. Galante said the objective is to increase "the availability of affordable homes for first-time and other purchasers, helping stabilize real estate prices as well as neighborhoods and communities where foreclosure activity has been high."

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Among the key requirements that will continue during the latest waiver:

  • All transactions must be arm’s-length, with no identity of interest between the buyer and seller or other participants. Lenders are required to ensure that the seller actually holds title to the property. (In earlier flipping schemes, buy-sell transactions sometimes moved so fast that the seller never acquired legal title.) There should be no "pattern" of previous flips of the property during the 12 months preceding the transaction.
  • In cases where the sales price of the resold property is more than 20 percent more than what the seller paid for it, there must be documentation showing the renovations and repairs that justify the markedly higher resale price. A second appraisal may be used to substantiate the increase in value, but the second appraiser must be selected from FHA’s roster. When no significant renovations occur and the price is 20 percent higher than acquisition, the appraiser must provide "appropriate explanation" for the sudden increase.
  • Inspections are required of all the key components of the building structure and systems when price jumps exceed 20 percent. The inspection report must be provided to the purchaser before closing. If the inspection reveals structural or "health and safety" defects, repairs must be completed before the closing and a final inspection performed to ensure that the repairs have been made.

Real estate professionals and others involved in single-family investment activities welcomed the latest extension and its two-year time span. Kevin Kim, an agent with Windermere Preferred Living in Brea, Calif., said "this definitely benefits my investors, but it’s also good for communities" where high rates of foreclosure have left properties sitting around in deteriorating conditions.

Kim said most of his investor clients do not exceed the 20 percent price-increase threshold — "typically it’s more like 10 to 12 percent" — but they virtually all try to acquire, renovate and resell in less than 90 days.

Cathy Bureau, broker-owner of Green Home Realty in San Antonio, Texas, who specializes in the central areas of the city, says FHA’s two-year extension assures investors that there will be takeout financing for buyers, thereby cutting costs on the "hard money" line of credit financing they use to acquire their houses. At interest rates of 14 to 16 percent, "every day costs money," she said, so for investors the ability to sell quickly after completing repairs is crucial.

Ken Harney writes an award-winning, nationally syndicated column, "The Nation’s Housing," and is the author of two books on real estate and mortgage finance.

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