Dec 032018

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By G. Steven Bray

Rising home prices have prompted federal regulators to raise the loan limits for conventional loans starting in Jan. The maximum loan amount for a conforming loan on a single-family home, one eligible for acquisition by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, will rise to $484,350.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) reviews the loan limits each year as established by the Housing and Economic Recovery Act (HERA) and adjusts them as necessary to reflect changes in home prices. FHFA reported its housing price index rose 6.9% since the third quarter of last year, so it adjusted the loan limit higher by the same amount.

Higher limits apply in certain “high cost” areas where 115% of the local median home price exceeds the new limit; however, FHFA hasn’t indentified any of those “high cost” areas in TX. Higher limits also apply to two, three, and four unit properties.

For some historical perspective, conforming loan limits go back to the early 1970’s, when the single-family loan limit was $33,000. Congress set the limit to $417,000 in 2008, where it remained for several years until average home prices rebounded from the great recession.

FHA and VA set their loan limits independently of the conforming loan limit, and I’ll report those as soon as they’re available.

Mortgage insurance companies tighten credit

 Loan Guidelines, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on Mortgage insurance companies tighten credit
Feb 232018

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By G. Steven Bray

As you’re probably aware, when buying a home, if your down payment is less than 20%, your mortgage payment will include mortgage insurance. This insurance is the lender’s way sharing some of the risk associated with more highly leveraged loans.

We call companies that specialize in this form of insurance mortgage insurance or MI companies – pretty clever, huh – and they often have special guidelines that apply to loans that require their product.

Recently, the MI companies expressed concern about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac increasing the amount of debt they’re willing to accept for a borrower receiving a conventional loan. Both now accept loans for which the borrower’s debts equal up to 50% of the borrower’s gross income.

Four of the MI companies announced that starting next month, they will require a 700 credit score anytime the borrower’s debt exceeds 45% of gross income. One company further is requiring a min 5% down payment in such cases. (Recall that it’s possible to get a conventional loan with as little as 3% down.)

I don’t expect this will affect a huge number of borrowers as most folks having lower credit scores and making small down payments find it more advantageous to use the FHA program. However, it does represent the first tightening of credit standards I’ve seen in a while.

Moving mortgaged rental property to LLC is okay

 Investment, Loan Guidelines  Comments Off on Moving mortgaged rental property to LLC is okay
Jan 292018

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By G. Steven Bray

Investors in residential real estate have long been dogged by the “due on sale” clause in the standard promissory note. It states that the lender may call the note due upon the sale or transfer of ownership of the property. A preferred vehicle for ownership of investment properties is a limited liability company because it provides some legal separation between the property and the investor’s other assets.

Fannie Mae requires that a borrower be personally liable on a note, meaning the borrower must sign the note in his/her name. Fannie won’t allow the name on the property’s title to be different from the name on the note, so investors sometimes quit claim the property title to their LLC after closing. However, this could trigger the due on sale clause if the loan servicer chooses to enforce it.

I have great news! Late last year, Fannie changed its servicing guidelines so that a change of ownership to an LLC in which the borrower owns a majority interest is acceptable and does NOT violate the terms of the note.

A couple important caveats:

– The change applies only to loans purchased by Fannie after 6/1/16; and

– The title must revert to the borrower prior to refinancing.

Fannie still will not allow the LLC to sign the note, and it still requires the property’s title to match the borrower’s name. However, Fannie will allow the time the property was held in the LLC to count towards the 6-month seasoning period for a cash-out refinance.

I did check with Freddie Mac, and it has not followed Fannie’s lead on this issue.

Equifax data breach prompts Fannie to change guidelines

 Loan Guidelines, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on Equifax data breach prompts Fannie to change guidelines
Jan 202018

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By G. Steven Bray

The recent Equifax data breach affected millions of consumers. One of the remedies suggested by cybersecurity experts was for consumers to freeze their credit files with Equifax. The credit bureau made it easy for consumers to initiate the freeze, so many followed the advice.

Unfortunately, cybersecurity experts aren’t mortgage experts, so they didn’t realize the potential ramifications of freezing one’s credit. Mortgage guidelines require a lender to obtain credit information from all three major credit bureaus. If credit has been frozen, the applicant must unfreeze the file before the lender can approve the loan.

Fannie Mae recognized the potentially significant impact of this situation and changed its guidelines. For now, if a borrower’s credit file is frozen at one credit bureau, a lender can proceed as long as credit data is available from the other two bureaus and at least one of them reports a score.

Rising home prices lead to higher loan limits

 Loan Guidelines, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on Rising home prices lead to higher loan limits
Jan 172018

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By G. Steven Bray

Rising home prices have prompted regulators to increase loan limits for standard loan programs. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac raised the limit for their conventional, conforming loans by almost 7% to $453,100. This limit applies to all areas of TX and is in effect now.

FHA also raised its loan limit, but the limit varies by county. FHA sets the limit to 115% of the median home price in an area with a ceiling of $679,650 and a floor of $294,515. The floor applies to areas where 115% of the median home price does not reach that level.

TX home prices haven’t reached levels at which the ceiling would apply; however, four TX metros do have a limit greater than the floor. Austin’s limit rose $23k to $384,100 for a single-family home. The DFW limit rose about the same amount to $386,400, still the highest in the state. San Antonio’s limit rose by the greatest amount, over $32k, to $359,950. Houston, still recovering from the oil industry downturn, didn’t see any change, with the limit remaining $331,200. Remember that these limits apply to all the counties in the metro, not just the cities themselves.

The limit for the VA program mirrors the Fannie/Freddie limit at $453,100. USDA programs shouldn’t be affected because loan size is driven by annual income limits, not median home prices.

These limits apply to single-family homes. Higher limits apply for two- to four-unit properties.

Two troublesome quirks in the new TX home equity rules

 Loan Guidelines, Owner-occupied, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on Two troublesome quirks in the new TX home equity rules
Jan 042018

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By G. Steven Bray

As we discussed last year, Texans changed the rules for homeowners who want to take equity out of their homes. TX Equity loans, what we call cash out loans, are a special type of conventional loan because the TX constitution provides homeowners some unique protections. As a result, the loans have slightly higher interest rates and higher closing costs than other conventional loans.

The changes approved by voters last fall mainly benefited homeowners with lower-priced homes and homeowners in rural areas. However, attorneys, as they’re apt to do, have noticed a couple quirks in the wording that could cause problems.

– The rules now allow a lender to charge closing costs equal to 2% of the loan amount, down from the previous limit of 3%. However, this amount now excludes the appraisal and survey fees and a fee for a title policy and policy endorsements established in accordance with state law. It’s the “in accordance with state law” part that is at issue. Our attorneys are recommending a conservative reading, which could add a few hundred dollars back to the total subject to the 2% limit.

– The rules also now allow homeowners on ag-exempt land to take out home equity loans. The issue is the state tax code says an ag-exemption is not allowed on land that secures an equity loan. While this likely was an oversight, and the Comptroller may correct the problem soon, the risk for homeowners is that they’ll lose their ag-exemption. That raises the horror of property tax rollbacks.

Even with the issues, the changes are a welcome relief for homeowners wanting to use their home equity, and in time I suspect the state will resolve the issues in the favor of homeowners.

Qualifying with rental income from Airbnb

 Loan Guidelines, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on Qualifying with rental income from Airbnb
Nov 202017

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By G. Steven Bray

With the growing popularity of Airbnb and other short term rental options, Freddie Mac has updated its conventional loan guidelines to allow you to use that rental income to qualify for a mortgage. However, the conditions for inclusion are rather tight.

To use short-term rental income for qualifying, you must have a two-year history of receiving it as documented on Schedule E of your tax return. Freddie contends that short-term rental income tends to fluctuate, so a historical view is needed. You can expect Freddie to take the lower amount or an average of the two years as qualifying income. Also note that short-term rental income for your primary residence, like renting out your home during SWSX, will not count as qualifying income even if you do it every year.

Freddie announced one other significant change to its guidelines for rental income. If you don’t have at least one year of investment property experience, Freddie will limit the amount of rental income that can count as qualifying income to 30% of the net rental income from your investment property. Freddie says the limit addresses the risk that rental income is a new type of income for the borrower.

Freddie says the changes are effective Feb 9th of next year, but some lenders may implement them earlier.

The death of down payment assistance?

 Loan Guidelines, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on The death of down payment assistance?
Nov 032017

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By G. Steven Bray

Recent surveys indicate that saving for a down payment is one the biggest hurdles to homeownership. With rising home prices, that hurdle may seem like a moving target. Some homebuyers are turning to down payment assistance programs for help.

Well, Freddie Mac just threw cold water on one popular method of funding these programs. It’s called differential rate pricing or premium pricing. The lender provides assistance equal to 3 to 5% of the loan amount in exchange for a substantially higher interest rate. As Freddie correctly discerned, the result is a no down payment, higher-rate mortgage, which violates current conventional loan guidelines. As of 11/1, Freddie will disallow its use with low down payment loan programs.

I have not heard if Fannie Mae is planning a similar prohibition, but given that both agencies are owned by the government, one has to wonder. FHA officials have been squabbling among themselves for over a year about the legality of premium priced programs. For now, they are permitted.

If you’re struggling to find the funds for a down payment, I suggest you check out my Can I Qualify with limited savings videos for ideas. You also may want to check with your city or county for down payment assistance that doesn’t use premium pricing. Keep in mind that most of these programs have income and purchase price limits, and you may have to repay some or all of the assistance if you don’t stay in the home for 5 to 10 years.

Waive the appraisal to save some money

 Loan Guidelines, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on Waive the appraisal to save some money
Sep 212017

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By G. Steven Bray

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for a while now have allowed some borrowers who refinance their mortgages to forego an appraisal. Each has internal, computer-based valuation models, and if they feel sufficiently confident in a homeowner’s estimated value, they will accept it in lieu of an appraised value.

This month, both Fannie and Freddie announced they will start waiving appraisal requirements for some purchase transactions. The change could save a homebuyer $500 and shorten the mortgage process by a week or two.

Neither has released its formula for deciding when to offer the waiver; however, it’s expected that most waivers will go to homebuyers making large down payments, and that waivers will be offered on only 5% to 10% of transactions. Your mortgage lender will notify you of the waiver option after plugging your transaction into Fannie’s or Freddie’s computer-based underwriting system.

Even if you receive a waiver offer, you still can choose to get an appraisal. I suspect a significant number of homebuyers will waive the waiver and order an appraisal to make sure they’re not paying too much for their homes.

LLC-financed rental homes won’t prevent use of Fannie loan

 Investment, Loan Guidelines, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on LLC-financed rental homes won’t prevent use of Fannie loan
Apr 172017

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By G. Steven Bray

One of the more frustrating loan guidelines encountered by rental property owners is the limit on the number of financed properties. Fannie Mae limits the number to 10 – 4 for best-rate financing. While Fannie hasn’t changed that guideline, it has changed which properties count towards it. Previously, properties financed through an LLC counted towards the limit. Now, if the borrower financed the property through an LLC so that the borrower is not personally liable on the mortgage, Fannie excludes the property from the total.

This should be a nice change for investors who use multiple financing tools to manage their properties. Investors often use shorter-term bank loans to finance the initial acquisition of a property, and bank portfolio loans often will allow a seasoned LLC to sign the note. Now, if the investor wants to roll a property into long-term, lower-rate, conventional financing, those short-term loans won’t get in the way.

Keep in mind that financed primary residences and vacation homes still count towards the total. Also keep in mind that some lenders will count a spouse’s financed properties towards the total even if the spouse isn’t on the new loan. Finally, remember that the limit only includes one-to-four-unit residential properties. Anything else, including land, commercial properties, and timeshares, do not count towards the total.