Recently the Obama administration announced changes to the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) that are aimed at helping homeowners refinance mortgages, even when there is no equity in their homes. Their goal is to help the millions of homeowners and prevent more foreclosures, but what is involved and will it really work?
Some of the changes to HARP include the following:
1. Fee reduction. Many of the fees associated with refinancing will be reduced.
2. Current loan to value cap on fixed rate home loans will disappear. This was the reason many homeowners could not take advantage of HARP initially, since the value of their homes had decreased significantly.
3. Reduced underwriting guidelines. Some of the changes almost hint at a stated income situation, with a verbal income verification…but we will have to wait and see the specifics when they are announced.
4. Appraisal changes. The new plan will have a valuation system for appraisals, called “automated valuation,” which will do away with the need for new appraisals, and hopefully avoid appraisal issues that have plagued refinancing in the past.
There are a few caveats, most importantly that the homeowner has to be current on their mortgage. The home also must be a primary residence, and borrowers will be able to shop rates with other lenders, not just the lender who currently holds their loan. More details will be revealed next month. Some of these changes sound promising, and I do believe that more homeowners will get to take advantage of the lower rates without these restrictions, but the big question is:
Will the new HARP really help the housing market?
I have to say no to this. While this is a nice plan to help some more people get into lower mortgages, the fact is that it does not shine the light on the bigger problem in real estate – homeowners who have fallen behind on their mortgages. The new HARP offers no help to these people, and their homes will likely turn into a big future foreclosure wave. The negative equity in these homes is so great that neighborhoods will continue to be effected by their foreclosures, with comparables continuing to drop.
The other big problem I see with the new program is that it has to be implemented by the banks. Although some banks, like Bank of America, claim to embrace the new program, chances are we will still face many hurdles from the banks with implementation. Banks are simply too scared to refinance many mortgages, and the re-default rate is high, making them risky.
While I think the new HARP plan can help some homeowners, I think it is just the beginning. I stand by my opinion that housing must be fixed if we ever want to see the economy improve. We need MUCH more than what HARP can do. We need to help the millions of people who are unable to pay their mortgages, prevent the wave of foreclosures down the road, and find ways to deal with the heavy inventory currently owned by the lenders that is not yet on the market. To do this, we need the cooperation of the major lenders in formulating plans to help these people.
What do you think?