It appears there are several major housing policy changes coming in the next two to three months, and that the overall goal will be to reduce the large backlog of seriously delinquent loans while, at the same time, not flood the housing market with distressed homes.
Currently, according to LPS, there are 1.81 million loans 90+ days delinquent and an additional 2.21 million loans in the foreclosure process.
• HARP Refinance: Back in October, the FHFA announced some changes to HARP to allow homeowners with GSE loans and with negative or near negative equity – and who are current on their mortgages – to refinance into lower interest rate loans.
The key to this program for the lenders was that the lender was not responsible for any of the representations and warranties associated with the original loan (this is huge for the lenders). The elimination of Reps and warrants for the original loans applies to Desktop Underwriter® (DU) and that will not be updated until March.
So I expect HARP refinance activity to pickup significantly in March.
• Mortgage Settlement: It sounds like this will be announced in late January or possibly in February (if at all). Some of the details have leaked, and there will probably be some mortgage modifications that include principal reduction. It is possible that there will be a refinance program for non-GSEs borrowers with negative equity (similar to HARP), although this hasn’t been announced.
• REO to Rental Program: This rental program for Fannie and Freddie REO is being pushed by several agencies, and was discussed last week in the Fed white paper “The U.S. Housing Market: Current Conditions and Policy Considerations” and by NY Fed President William Dudley: Housing and the Economic Recovery
This program could include bulk REO sales to investors, but might also include Fannie and Freddie renting out more REOs. (Fannie and Freddie already have a program to keep tenants in place if they foreclose on a rented property).
There will be a similar effort for non-GSE properties. From the Fed white paper:
In light of the current unusually difficult circumstances in many housing markets across the nation, the Federal Reserve is contemplating issuing guidance to banking organisations and examiners to clarify supervisory expectations regarding rental of
REO properties by such organisations while such circumstances continue (and within relevant federal and statutory and regulatory limits). If finalised and adopted, such guidance would explain how rental of a residential REO property within applicable holding-period time limits could meet the supervisory expectation for ongoing good faith efforts to sell that property. Relatedly, if a successful model is developed for the GSEs to transition REO properties to the rental market, banks may wish to participate in such a program or adopt some of its features.
Look for this guidance to be issued soon, and to relax the rules on how banks can manage rented REOs.
There are some minor programs too (like the Freddie Mac program to allow 12 months of forbearance for unemployed borrowers) and there could be more programs coming. But the key policy changes will probably be 1) the mortgage settlement, 2) the HARP refinance program, and 3) the REO to rental program.
It sounds like all of these program will be in place by the end of Q1.