If you're one of the thousands of middle-income Americans whose 1982 home-buying plans were derailed by Ronald Reagan's veto of the so-called "Lugar" mortgage-subsidy bill last week, don't throw in the towel.
To the contrary: You may be able to find even better combinations of price and financing on the market in the coming month than you'd have seen otherwise.
The bipartisan interest-rate subsidy bill -- sponsored originally by Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) -- was probably the most creative piece of home buyer assistance passed by Congress in the last decade. It offered a 4 percentage point maximum federal "buy-down" of rates on loans for new home purchasers. It offered the prospect of putting tens of thousands of unemployed workers back into tax-paying jobs; its sponsors estimated that it would have created 700,000-plus construction industry and related jobs in the coming year.
Part of the Lugar bill's creativity, however, derived from its mandatory payback provisions. The 300,000 to 400,000 families subsidized under the program would have had to pay back the federal Treasury the full amount of monthly subsidies provided on their behalf -- a cash outlay that would have amounted to $5,000 to $6,000 in many cases at the time of resale of the home.
Lugar, a fiscal conservative, insisted on that feature so that the true economic cost to the government would be limited, if indeed there were any net cost at all.
Ronald Reagan turned out to be an even bigger fiscal tightwad than Lugar. The president declined to lay out a cent in the form of temporary interest subsidies, no matter how soon the federal money would have flowed back in.
The key point here for home buyers is that the Lugar bill -- immensely helpful though it would have been -- was never going to be a free ride for consumers. The 12 percent mortgages it offered were loans within loans: The main debt would have been owed to the neighborhood bank that made the mortgage; a second and smaller debt would have been owed to Uncle Sam.
The Lugar bill was never more than a distant relative to the home-buyer subsidy programs of the 1970s -- the ones that offered 1 percent mortgage rates to consumers, and non-repayable interest-rate buydowns to 7 1/2 percent. Unlike those subsidies, which were homeownership giveaways, the Lugar bill was first and foremost a jobs creation measure. Only secondarily was it aimed at subsidizing individual home purchasers and, even then, it wouldn't have been a bonanza for anybody.
The real victims of the Reagan vote, in short, will be homebuilders and construction workers across the country. Builders who had counted on the federal subsidy program to help clear out their backlogs of unsold, modest-priced houses and condominiums this summer will now have to rethink their strategies.
Many of them will have to offer deeper interest-rate subsidies than they'd otherwise have planned. Some will offer price discounts in combination with mortgage-rate buydowns that cut their own profit margins to little or nothing. Some will search harder than before for innovative 30-year mortgage plans that offer 10 to 11 percent rates for the first five years, and gradually higher rates over the balance of the term.
"The name of the game," says Fred Napolitano, a Virginia Beach, Va., developer and president of the 115,000-member National Association of Home Builders, "is going to be to find financing that moves inventories. There's no real alternative to that for a lot of builders right now, except bankruptcy or foreclosure."
Napolitano is the last person on earth who'd suggest that you ought to try to take advantage of your local homebuilder this summer -- squeezing him (or her) on prices, mortgage terms, closing costs and other concessions.
But facts are facts: The subsidy bill didn't come through. It's been a buyer's market for 18 months. The deal you can cut on the price or financing of a condo or subdivision house may surprise you.
Certainly the effective rates available to you will be comparable to, or better than, what Congress was offering. In most cases the subsidies you find the next several months will be non-repayable. They'll either represent actual discounts off the prices advertised in earlier months, or they'll include mortgage plans that bring down rates to 10 to 12 percent.
So weep not for the home buyers of 1982 who've been denied the Lugar bill's cut-rate loan money. Sharp-eyed buyers will be able to get 12 percent or lower this summer, and not have to pay anything back to Uncle Sam.
Weep instead for the homebuilders -- and visit a few of them this weekend.
By the way, after you've bought your condo or new home, ask the builder if he's still voting the straight Republican ticket in November.