by Brian Short, CMC, CRMS, GMA – Certified Mortgage Professional
The US Senate just approved another $2 Billion for the auto industry’s stimulus program referred to as “Cash for Clunkers” after the first $1 Billion was used up last week in only 3 days. It seems, at first glance, that this auto industry bail-out program might be having some positive affect on another ailing US industry. At least the players are allowing the program to work. The Feds are giving away money (whether you agree with this approach or not), the dealers are accepting the qualifying vehicles and giving a $4,500 trade-in allowance toward a new qualifying car, and US consumers are using up the allowed funds to work this program.
The housing industry has witness many attempts by the Feds to “jump-start” the stalled industry for the past 12-18 months. One of the first was the FHA Secure Program with “impossible to qualify” underwriting guidelines for those who had made late payments on their adjustable mortgages. Most of the national wholesalers were not participating and none of the FHA participating lenders would approve these borrowers for this program.
The Troubled Assets Recovery Program (TARP) initiated by then Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and President Bush and expanded by the Obama administration attempted to infuse cash into the ailing national and regional banks so they would be more willing to free up credit to business owners, home owners and borrowers. However, with the expansion of this TARP program came the announcement that the Feds could jump into the books of any bank who received these funds to determine if they were “financially solvent enough” to avoid a federal government take over. Some banks refused the money, others returned it and most who received it held on to it to bolster their bottom line figures. Either way, no credit was freed up and no home owners, home buyers, home builders or Real Estate industry players have received any relief from such a misguided and over funded Federal effort.
The recent announcement by President Obama to design a federal loan modification program has been met with delays and unresponsiveness by Bank of America and Well Fargo – the nation’s two largest remaining banks holding the largest number of servicing rights on most of America’s residential mortgages. On the one hand, these banks appear very unwilling to work with their customers to write down loan balances or interest rates to keep the existing home owner in the home, and yet on the other hand, they are all saying that they do not want any more foreclosed properties and the process of foreclosing on US homes is causing home values to dive bomb unlike anything we have ever experienced.
The one program still being promoted – “$8,000 tax credit of first-time homebuyers” – is far too limited in its scope. This author was calling for this approach long before the Feds rolled out their version. However, we were calling for a tax credit for any down-payment and closing costs used to buy a house by ANY buyer. Only this breadth of a program which would include Real Estate investors, buyers of second homes and “move-up” or “move-down” buyers will truly have any effect of the most critical industry in our downward spiraling US economy.
Again, I am calling for the inclusion of those solid borrowers, experienced buyers and business owners to be enticed to get off the sidelines and risk THEIR capital (rather than the future Federal tax revenues for generations to come!) to help get the housing industry out of the dumps.
The average first-time homebuyer is still too scared and too inexperienced to be a major player in rescuing the ailing housing industry. They are fearing for their own job security and seeing house prices plummet causes them to be squeamish about investing what little cash they can scrape together to buy something which may be worth less than what they paid in 2-3 years when they might be ready to sell and buy something bigger or in a different location. This group of buyers does not have the “staying power” to be the key to a housing industry recovery. Bring in the Pros! We need the seasoned home buyers and investors to be encouraged to buy up the housing inventory busting at the seams so builders will be enticed to start building again.
In the meantime, those who desire to take advantage of the $8,000 tax credit have less than 4 months to get their first-time home purchase selected, financed and closed. This is not much time in light of heightened underwriting requirements, appraisal delays and turn times in wholesale approval processes. Those who can benefit from this limited time tax credit must move quickly to get the benefit of the $8,000 “give-away” by the Feds.
If you or someone you know has not owned a house in the past 3 years and desire to buy a house before the end of the year to take advantage of this $8,000 refund of all tax withholdings during 2009 and an outright rebate of whatever the difference is between what has been withheld and $8,000, they must get into the game quickly by contacting a Certified Mortgage Professional to get pre-qualified before going out to shop for houses with a Realtor. The clock is ticking. There is no promise that the Feds will extend or revamp this program once it expires on December 1, 2009, regardless of how many housing experts, like this author, call for a program which will really help the struggling housing industry. Sellers are motivated to sell, there is a record-breaking level of houses included in the existing home inventory, and Realtors and Certified Mortgage Professionals have time to give a first-time buyer the time and attention they need to make a great choice to get into (or back into) the housing market.
The good news is – no “clunker” trade-in is required to participate in this cash give-away. You can buy anything you want and still get the $8,000 tax credit – a cottage, a castle or a condo! COME ON DOWN! You’re already a winner!