By Gary Thomas, 2012 President-Elect, National Association of REALTORS®
I have some great news to share with everyone! Last night Congress voted to restore loan limits and the maximum cap for Federal Housing Administration loans. Their action reinstates the loan limit at 125 percent of area median price up to $729,750 for two years and extends the National Flood Insurance Program until December 16th, with no lapse.
This is good news! Higher loan limits will make mortgages more accessible for hard-working middle-class families throughout the country. In fact, nearly two-thirds of buyers who will be helped by the loan limits extension have incomes below $100,000. On flood insurance, the extension until December 16th ensures no lapse, but we still need to push for Congress to pass the five-year reauthorization. Contact your representative to reauthorize NFIP for five more years.
Opponents of higher loan limits mistakenly argue that only wealthy borrowers benefit from the maximum cost limits. But in 2010, the FHA was used by 56 percent of all first-time homebuyers, and 85 percent of borrowers obtaining homes at the higher loan limits had incomes below $150,000. In addition, 60 percent of all African-American and Hispanic homebuyers used FHA.
The truth is that it actually depends a lot on where in the country the borrower lives. Geography often dictates what the price of “affordable housing” is. Last month’s reset to 115 percent impacted 669 counties in 42 states and territories, with an average loan limit reduction of more than $68,000. We support giving middle-class borrowers the same access to affordable mortgage financing, no matter where they make their home.
For example, many people think of California as a high cost state, and there are many areas where it is. San Francisco will benefit because many middle class homes bump up against the $729,750 limit. What many people don’t know is there are many counties in California that are not considered high cost and will benefit. Take Fresno County, for example, prices will go from $281,750 to $311,250 to qualify. As you can see, this really benefits consumers no matter where they live.
For a great analysis, see the video below.
Statistics for last year show a decline in mortgages for higher priced homes, in spite of historically low interest rates. This suggests that sales in the higher-priced portion of the markets were stymied relative to the lower price ranges during the period leading up to the change in the conforming loan limits. This negatively impacted our businesses at the very worst time.
Yet, not long ago, the effort to reinstate the loan limits was dead in the water. Several members of Congress let us know it would never happen. But we didn’t give up. We showed Congress what REALTORS® are made of—strength and grit! We sent out a Call for Action on both these matters, and we had an impressive response from members. And you know what? Congress listened! That’s why these Calls for Action are so important, and I thank you for your overwhelming response.
Those of you who answered the call helped make a difference, and I urge you to keep up the good work by continuing to respond when asked. And be sure to answer the call for action to reauthorize NFIP, if you haven’t already. Again, thanks for your help!