A New Year’s gift from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: higher mortgage rates!

Fannie and Freddie recently announced a 10-point increase in the guarantee fee paid by lenders for loan commitments, effective on mortgages with commitment dates on or after April 1, 2014. The fee isn’t directly charged to homebuyers, but you can bet lenders are going to pass the extra cost along in the form of higher interest rates.

Plans to increase Fannie and Freddie’s guarantee fees have been loosely imminent since 2012. Still, the implementation of higher fees comes at a bad time for California’s housing market, which is still reeling from:

  • a mid-2013 hike in mortgage rates that continues to hold on; and
  • too-high home prices, brought about by rampant speculation in 2013.

Of course, Fannie and Freddie’s reasons for raising fees is sensible: they want more money to offset the risk associated with their business of guaranteeing home loans (made all the riskier in the aftermath of the housing crash and following foreclosure crisis). More money means becoming independent of U.S. taxpayers sooner. But their timing is questionable.

Buyer purchasing power is at an all-time low as of December 2013. Homebuyers qualify for 10.4% less principal when purchasing a home with the same income compared to a year ago, due to higher mortgage rates alone.

This is not only bad news for homebuyers in 2014, but it’s just another headwind facing California’s slow, bumpy plateau housing recovery.

Congressman Mel Watt, who replaced Edward DeMarco as head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) earlier this week, is pushing to delay the increases until later in the year. If he’s successful, he’ll kick the can down the road a ways – but it’s coming.

What can agents do with this news?

First, educate your homebuyer and seller clients about the coming rise in mortgage rates. Knowing that rates will rise in the coming year may give them a needed push to buy or list before the rate hikes arrives and reduces buyer purchasing power further.

Second, caution your homebuyer when the inevitable temptation to turn to adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs) arises. ARMs are not for everyone, though the low teaser rates they offer lure homebuyers to look past their drawbacks. Generally, buyer incomes cannot keep up once the teaser rate expires and the new ARM rate increases – and it’s just the beginning of the next 30-year cycle of climbing mortgage rates.

Related article:

30 years of summer, followed by 30 years of winter