Thousands of would-be buyers are still shut out of the housing market by the high cost of discount points charged with FHA- and VA-insured home loans, bankers complained yesterday.
The federal government on Friday raised the interest rate by a half percentage point, to 12 1/2 percent, in an attempt to narrow the difference between the FHA rate and rates on conventional mortgage loans, which have reached 14 percent in many areas. But the new rate, which took effect yesterday, is not yet high enough to close the gap and reduce the discount points to an acceptable level, some bankers said.
"There probably are tremendous numbers of deals . . . waiting to go to settlement but which probably will not go to settlement because the sellers are not going to pay the points," said J. Ronald Weismiller, senior vice president of Weaver Brothers Inc., a mortgage banking firm.
A point equals 1 percent of the loan amount. Points are charged by banks and savings associations to make mortgages competitive with other investments in the secondary market, where packages of mortgages are purchased by investors. Under the law, buyers can pay one point, and sellers must pay the rest.
From five to six discount points were being charged yesterday on the FHA- and VA-insured home loans, down from the eight to 10 being charged last week but still too high, some bankers said, predicting that further increases on these loan rates soon will be necessary.
"Our normal situation is that if the market is 3 to 3 1/2 points, the sellers will usually accept that as a way of life," Weismiller said. Now, however, "the only people who will sell are those who are forced to sell."
Yesterday's FHA rate increase was the third in less than three months, as the Department of Housing and Urban Development attempted to keep the FHA interest rate in line with rates in the mortgage markets. The government-backed rate was dropped to 11 1/2 percent in early May, the lowest level in nearly three years. It was raised to 12 percent a month later, and to 12 1/2 percent yesterday.
Federal Housing Commissioner Philip Abrams acknowledged that "the point level at 5 1/2 is on high side of where we have been keeping it for the last few years, but . . . we are in a stage where we have a volatile market and we are looking at a lot of different factors."
Abrams said that the government "tries to keep points to somewhere in the range of two and seven points," adding that "our record of keeping points responsive to the market is excellent."
But many lenders disagree. James Wooton, head of the Mortgage Bankers Association and president of Lomas & Nettleon Co. in Dallas, said that the high level of points now being charged is aggravating a seasonal slowdown for the housing industry.