Lenders Eased Standards in November

December 16, 2014

Mortgage availability rose in November, showing signs that the credit box is gradually opening for borrowers, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association's Mortgage Credit Availability Index. The index rose 1.2 percent to 114.6 last month; an increase in the index indicates the loosening of credit.

"Credit availability increased in November, largely due to the addition of jumbo loan programs that permit cash-out refinancing," says Mike Fratantoni, MBA's chief economist. "Home-price appreciation and larger equity cushions have likely made some lenders more willing to allow certain borrowers to take cash out, while still low mortgage rates may make this a more attractive opportunity for some."

Housing analysts are optimistic that lenders are showing signs of loosening up the tight credit that has sidelined many potential buyers in recent years. Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae's latest move ushers back in loans with 3 percent down payments, which some expect to be a boon for attracting more first-time home buyers to the market.

Still, some banks are adamant that they aren't loosening up. "You won't see us start to expand our credit much past what we've done today," Bank of America CEO Brian T. Moynihan said at a New York investor conference last month. "I don't think there's a big incentive for us to start to try to create more mortgage availability where the consumers are susceptible to default. … I know that doesn't sound good for an instant housing recovery and faster housing markets, but it's actually good because, in the long-term, it keeps housing more fundamentally based."

Indeed, REALTORS® report that overall credit conditions remain tight, according to the latest REALTORS® Confidence Index, which is produced by the National Association of REALTORS®. About 15 percent of REALTORS® said in the October survey that they had clients who could not obtain financing.

“REALTORS® have reported that under tight underwriting guidelines, the documentation requirements for obtaining a mortgage have become very stringent and the procedure more protracted,” according to the report.

As of July, the median FICO score for purchase-only loans was 749, up from about 700 in 2000.

Source: Mortgage Bankers Association and REALTORS® Confidence Index (October 2014)