The survey results released Wednesday suggest that the lenders are loosening up, perhaps because they need to boost their profit margins or because they’re responding to recent federal policy changes to encourage them to widen access to credit – or both. But they’re still having trouble luring buyers, which suggests that 2015 will not be a breakout year for the housing market.
Here are some of the highlights from the Fannie survey:
The big banks are easing their standards, and the smaller ones are no longer tightening. Only 13 percent of lenders who do business with Fannie and Freddie Mac say they’ve tightened their standards in the last three months, down from 28 percent at the start of the year. (The two mortgage giants back nearly half of all U.S. purchase mortgages, according to Inside Mortgage Finance.)
The survey broke down responses based on input about Fannie and Freddie mortgages (GSE-eligible), loans backed by other government entities (such as the Federal Housing Administration) and loans that don’t fall into either category (primarily “jumbo” mortgages that exceed $417,000 — labeled as “Non-GSE Eligible Loans” in the chart below). For the last category in particular, more lenders report easing standards than tightening them.
Still, demand for mortgages used to buy single-family homes has dropped in the fourth quarter from the previous quarter. That holds true across all types of mortgages — those backed by Fannie and Freddie and those that aren’t. Lenders do not foresee a pick-up any time soon. In the fourth quarter, about 22 percent of lenders who do business with Fannie and Freddie said they expect demand will decrease in the next three months. Since sales typically drop toward the end of the year, Fannie asked lenders to factor seasonal variability into their forecasts. It’s unlikely that all of them did, said Steve Deggendorf, Fannie’s director of economic and strategic research. Still, Fannie expects only modest growth in housing sales next year based in part on lender expectations and other trends, Deggendorf said.
Getting a mortgage may be easier, but it’s not easy. At least that’s the way the lenders see it. About 86 percent of lenders said getting a mortgage is tough these days. Only about half of consumers thought so, according to a separate Fannie survey.
Lenders are less worried than they used to be about government policies squeezing their profit margins and more worried about consumer demand. After the housing bust, regulators forced the industry to buy back billions of dollars in loans, which is why lenders have been reluctant to lend to anyone who lacks stellar credit. Lenders said the rules that determined when they had to buy back a loan were unclear. The regulator that oversees Fannie and Freddie has recently tried to clear up some of the confusion. Now, 66 percent of lenders say government regulatory compliance will eat into their profits, compared with 74 percent in the first quarter. But 53 percent flagged consumer demand as a concern, compared with 29 percent earlier in the year.