The Department of Housing and Urban Development has announced its newest rules to rescue the condo market. Rules that take effect next week will drop the new-condo presale requirement down from 70% to 30%, a welcome change to any developer, but tack on rules that make some lenders jittery.
Back in the days when no-doc loans were de rigueure and lenders financed 95 to 100% of home-purchase loans, FHA was but an obscure agency that few real estate agents even noticed. No more. FHA-based financing now allows 97% financing where lenders otherwise lend a more parsimonious 85 to 90%, and news from FHA is watched more closely than interest rates.
The newest rules, just released, take effect December 7th. Under the old regime, developers were obligated to find buyers to write contracts on 70% of the units in a new condominium before FHA would back the mortgage. With so many buyers seeking FHA loans, a building could not begin settling loans before the 70% mark was met, a tough standard in the current market. The new rules bring that threshold to 30%, down from the initially proposed 50%. Spot approval, the process of getting an FHA-approved loan on a building that does not have overall FHA approval, now ends February 1, 2010. Buyers with a ratified contract by that date can still get case by case approval even if the settlement date is later.
The quirk in the new rules lies in the two methods developers can use to qualify their project. The first entails "Designated Entity approval" with a bank's in-house licensed underwriters, a process the government intends as a quicker, cheaper approval method. The second is to submit the project to the FHA for approval. While no one is willing to guess at how long the government option will take, the bank approval process comes with a caveat that has bankers worried. Under the new guidelines, the first bank that approves a loan in a new condominium will incur liability for any flaws in all subsequent financing, even if it doesn't make subsequent loans. That can leave banks on the hook for hundreds of units for the profit of one loan, a scenario that banks seem not so keen to jump into. On the other hand, all existing condominiums need to be approved under the new system, leaving some industry watchers fearing a glut of applications on December 8th, with some predictions that rules for bank-approved loans will be relaxed to lighten the burden on the federal government. If not, builders will simply have to wait out the government's own approval process.