It’s one of the questions of the moment, and one that many real estate agents and mortgage brokers fear most at this time: what will happen to the housing market once the conforming loan limits drop at the end of September? How will buyers and sellers be affected, if at all?
Let’s start at the beginning: conforming loans are those that are eligible for guarantee by the government. Because of this, they tend to have lower interest rates. The cap on the amount that the government can guarantee used to be lower, but in 2008 Congress raised the cap to $729,750 in some markets (typically those with higher priced homes, like in California). This made lenders feel more secure in doling out loans, because they knew they would be covered by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac if the homeowner defaulted on the loan, thus making them less risky.
Also potentially on the chopping block are FHA limits, and lowering them could impact 40 states and hundreds of counties, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR). Since FHA backed loans are popular right now across a broad spectrum of buyers, this could also be a problem for those seeking to qualify for these types of loans. Many organizations, including NAR, have been making appeals to Congress to not allow limits to be reduced.
Come October 1 these higher limits are set to revert back to the old limits – $625,500 in some markets , such as pricier home markets like San Diego County. Many reports have predicted this will be a huge blow to buyers trying to qualify for loans, and some lenders are already starting to scrutinize current applications in light of the coming changes. How might this affect the borrower?
Interest rate increases: With loan limit decreases higher interest rates are likely. If a borrower needs a loan that exceeds the new caps she will need a jumbo loan, which has a higher rate. This may cause the buyer to look for homes that are smaller and cost less – or simply to hold off on buying. Either way this could effect housing market recovery.
Down payment increases: Buyers will need to make bigger down payments should they need loans that are over the lowered limits, in order to get jumbo loans. Again, this could lead to inventory stagnation in the middle part of the market, with buyers starting to focus on lower-priced homes or just opting to wait.
Price decreases: With the changes in loan limits and thus, buyers being able to qualify, comes the inevitable – sellers may have to reduce home prices to entice buyers to buy (so that they can qualify for a loan without having to get a jumbo loan).
Given the current state of the housing market and economy, this move to reduce loan limits doesn’t seem like a good one…however, there is a ray of hope in the scenario: if you are a buyer you could benefit immensely from prices going down. You may have to adjust your criteria a bit – maybe a smaller home or one that needs a little TLC, but all in all it could have a positive outcome for buyers. Sellers are the ones who will have a more difficult time with the changes.
Buyers still have time to research, find a home and lock in a rate. If you are a seller, you still have time to price your home WELL. This is certainly not the time for overpriced listings, so have a frank discussion with your agent and utilize the comparables to come up with a price that will get those buyers in the door.