Two prominent Democrats on the Senate Banking Committee are pushing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s regulator to prolong the time period during which first-time homebuyers and other owner-occupants get a “First Look” at purchasing homes repossessed by the mortgage giants before they’re offered to investors.
The First Look period for “HomeSteps” homes in Freddie Mac’s “real estate owned” (REO) inventory is currently 20 days. Fannie Mae won’t take offers from investors on “HomePath” properties until they’ve been on the market for 15 days (the First Look period for Fannie and Freddie REOs is 30 days in Nevada).
During the First Look window, Fannie and Freddie will consider offers only from people who want to live in the homes, and from nonprofits and other groups involved in neighborhood stabilization efforts.
In addition to lengthening the First Look window, Sens. Mark Warner and Elizabeth Warren are asking the Federal Housing Finance Agency to consider instructing Fannie and Freddie to set lower asking prices for homes during the First Look period to encourage more sales to owner-occupants.
Selling more repossessed homes to owners, rather than investors, “could help families struggling to recover from the housing crisis” while helping stabilize the hardest-hit neighborhoods, Warner and Warren said in a letter to FHFA Director Mel Watt. “While we applaud FHFA for developing this program, we believe there are ways to strengthen it.”
If owner-occupants can’t be found, FHFA could look for ways to encourage sales of homes to investors “whose business plans prioritize homeownership,” they said.
More sales of Fannie and Freddie REOs to owner-occupants would mean more commissions for real estate agents, who typically represent both the buyer and the seller in such deals.
Realtor associations raised objections in 2012 when FHFA signed off on bulk sales of Fannie Mae-owned homes to investors in Atlanta, Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix and parts of Florida.
In May, FHFA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac announced a pilot program to funnel more foreclosed properties in hard-hit areas to nonpofit organizations. The National Stabilization Initiative’s “Quick Look” program gives nonprofits an exclusive seven-day opportunity immediately after foreclosure to purchase properties from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
In a recent update on the program, FHFA said that since July, eight partner nonprofits have purchased 33 percent of “Quick Look” properties they were offered. The number of homes in Fannie and Freddie’s combined REO inventories has declined from a peak of nearly 250,000 properties in 2010 to around 132,000 today, FHFA said.
To help more homebuyers qualify for loans, Warner (Virginia) and Warren (Massachusetts) also want FHFA to look into encouraging Fannie and Freddie to allow lenders to use alternative credit scoring models that take into account the impact of the financial crisis on borrowers’ credit histories.
The Senators also asked that Fannie and Freddie be permitted to use more lenient standards in assessing the capital assets of private mortgage insurers.
If Fannie and Freddie don’t count insurance premiums as capital assets, they said, mortgage insurance companies would be forced to raise prices on policies for buyers making smaller down payments or with lower credit scores, and push more of those borrowers to seek FHA-backed loans.
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac require borrowers making down payments of less than 20 percent to take out private mortgage insurance policies, which protect investors in mortgage-backed securities when homeowners default.