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1/24/2009 - New Rules for Florida Condo Mortgages

Lending giant Fannie Mae is slapping tough new requirements on mortgages for Florida condos, moves that analysts believe will make it even more difficult to sell units in buildings already starved for residents and struggling financially.

The standards, which took effect last week and apply only to Florida, include requiring that no more than 15 percent of a building's unit owners be delinquent on association fees as a condition of funding home loans to new buyers.

Fannie Mae buys the majority of home loans from lenders, so it wields significant power in the making of mortgages. Fannie-backed loans generally offer the best rates and lowest down payments for borrowers.

The company, wracked with financial problems of its own and in conservatorship with the federal government, said it singled out Florida after a review of its mortgage loans revealed record-high default and foreclosure rates among condo owners. It also cited the excessive number of condos listed for sale, which has driven down prices.

The new rules come at a time when condo buyers already face difficulties getting mortgages. Many banks over the past two years have dramatically pulled back on condo lending, requiring down payments of up to 40 percent in new buildings. Some lenders even have blacklisted condo buildings, citing a high risk of price declines and defaults.

Fannie Mae's timing ''couldn't be worse,'' said Jack McCabe, a South Florida real estate consultant who believes the region is mired in a housing depression. ``This is effectively going to make it much more difficult to qualify.''

NEEDED TO QUALIFY

The new conditions include:

• No more than 15 percent of unit owners can be 30 days or more past due on association fees. (15 % for us is 14 people which is about where we are)

• For new condo buildings and condo conversions, at least 70 percent of units must have been sold or put under contract. That's up from 49 percent previously. (We are currently at 58%)

• Fannie will have to review condo buildings itself to make sure they meet Fannie requirements -- at the lender's expense. Before, Fannie relied on the lenders to perform these reviews.

Charles Foschini, vice chairman of debt and equity finance for brokerage CB Richard Ellis in Miami, said Fannie was protecting investors, borrowers and taxpayers, as it should in a climate of increased risk.

Borrowers will benefit, he said, by knowing they are moving into a condo complex that is adequately funded and has plenty of reserves, allowing them to predict their monthly expenses.

''From the taxpayer's perspective . . . the quicker we can instill sounder underwriting practices for mortgages for Fannie or anyone else the more confidence we'll have in the market,'' Foschini said.

`NAILS IN THE COFFIN'

But many condo buildings won't meet those requirements, meaning the buildings most in need of bringing in fresh buyers will increasingly have trouble doing so.

Sharon Dodge, president of the condo association at The Venetia, a 30-year-old building next to the Venetian Causeway in Miami, said about 32 percent of unit owners were past due -- more than double Fannie's new rules.

She described the rules as ''driving the nails in the coffin,'' just as the association is making headway on collecting delinquent payments and when sales were finally picking up.

''To have the major source of loans draw a line through us is terrible; it's wrong and it shouldn't happen,'' Dodge said. ``The feds can't pull the rug out from under us.''

POTENTIAL FALLOUT

McCabe estimates as much as 25 percent of the market in the tri-county area will be shut out of Fannie-funded financing.

Peter Zalewski, whose Condo Vultures realty specializes in bulk sales of distressed condos, said his figures show that as many as 41 new buildings between the Julia Tuttle and Rickenbacker causeways, and from I-95 to Biscayne Bay, may be ineligible for Fannie Mae approval because they don't meet the new 70 percent ownership threshold.

''It's devastating,'' Zalewski said.

Fannie is not the only source of funding for lenders who want to make condo loans. But John Bancroft, executive editor with trade publication Inside Mortgage Finance, said No. 2 mortgage guarantor Freddie Mac typically follows Fannie Mae's lead and would likely implement Fannie's guidelines soon.

The two companies owned or backed nearly $900 billion in new home loans in 2008, more than two-thirds of the market overall. Ginnie Mae is the major guarantor for FHA and VA loans. Few new buildings had been able to meet FHA certification requirements either, Zalewski said.

WHO BENEFITS?

Because few lenders are holding loans in their own portfolios, the Fannie vacuum could create new opportunities for cash-rich buyers who will be able to command even greater discounts, predicted Grant Stern, principal broker of Miami-based Morningside Mortgage.

''Fannie Mae declared Christmas for hedge funds who want to buy bulk in these buildings, but it's leaving everyday investors and people who want to buy for their own personal use in the dust,'' Stern said.

Stern added the restrictions further exemplified the self-fulfilling, cyclical nature of the credit crisis because Fannie's action would bring about further price declines, more foreclosures and potentially more losses for the company.

''It starts with fear, then a reaction. Then the reaction causes that fear to occur, which then confirms the fear and causes a further negative reaction,'' Stern said.

Source Miami Herald 1/24/2009


Peter Schulz - Editor - Email CM

 
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