Potential home buyers seeking FHA-backed mortgages are in for a slight delay. The Department of Housing and Urban Development's authority to issue mortgage insurance expired at midnight last night.

Both the Senate and House have passed bills extending FHA's insurance programs, but differences in the two bills must be resolved in a Senate-House conference scheduled to begin on Tuesday, and then the bill must be sent to the president for his signature.

"We're concerned that it's probably going to be well into next week," said W. Calvert Brand, general deputy assistant secretary for housing. "We're going to be a few days without authority to grant FHA insurance."

As a result, HUD has advised its 10 regional and 67 HUD area offices and FHA service offices to continue work on applications but not to issue any new commitments for FHA insurance.

"That doesn't mean that we're totally out of business," Brand said. "We can do all the processing on cases that will move applications up to the point where we issue conditional commitments." As soon as the FHA programs get reauthorized, HUD will be ready to issue the commitments, he said.

Brand said he didn't know how many people would be affected by the temporary expiration of the program.

In the last two weeks of April, though, commitments were running at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of about 860,000, with May running a little bit ahead of April, he said.

The hiatus in issuing FHA insurance comes at a time when there has been a pickup in home buying and a reduction in FHA interest rates.

"It will cause some disruption--there is no way we can avoid that--but we hope to have as little disruption as possible," Brand said.

He added that firm commitments for FHA-backed home mortgages may be issued if a conditional commitment already has been made, because the obligation is already on the books.

But no new conditional commitments can be issued or reiussed, and no expired commitments can be reoponed.

Last night's expiration date was contained in a bill passed by Congress last fall extending FHA insurance programs.