WASHINGTON Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are working on "sensible and responsible" guidelines to ensure borrowers who take out low-down-payment loans can afford to repay them, a top regulator said Friday.
Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mel Watt said that the government-sponsored enterprises will soon be offering mortgages with loan-to-value ratios of 95% and 97%.
But he stressed that the new loan products will be "targeted in scope," and only available to creditworthy borrowers.
"As a result, the guidelines will require that borrowers have compensating factors such as housing counseling, stronger credit histories, or lower debt-to-income ratios in order to make the mortgage eligible for purchase by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac," Watt said Friday in a speech to the National Association of Realtors annual convention in New Orleans.
Watt said that loans with low down payments are not inherently risky and that reforms put in place since the housing crisis will prevent abusive lending practices. However, tight credit conditions have locked many potential homebuyers out of the housing market and from benefiting from those mortgage reforms.
"There are creditworthy borrowers in today's market who have the income to afford monthly mortgage payments but do not have the money to make a large down payment and pay closing costs. Purchase guidelines that allow for 3% down payments will provide an opportunity for access to credit for some of these borrowers," Watt said.
Analysts said Watt's comments were an attempt to rebut criticism that lower down payments were a return to the lending practices that caused the housing collapse.
"It is clear that this speech was intended, at least in part, to blunt concerns in some corners that recent FHFA efforts to expand mortgage credit availability mark the return of unsafe lending standards," said Isaac Boltansky, an analyst with Compass Point. "Our sense is that Director Watt is committed to expanding mortgage credit availability but he remains cognizant of the political dimensions of this issue and will therefore continue to move at a measured pace."
Housing industry representatives welcomed Watt's remarks.
"We were encouraged to hear Director Watt reiterate his position to make prudent, low-down-payment mortgage products available to consumers," said NAR President Steve Brown in a statement. NAR will continue to work with lenders to ensure these products are offered to qualified borrowers to demonstrate that well underwritten, low-down-payment loans can be made responsibly.