Mortgage credit availability reverses courseby Marcie Geffner
Borrowers who believe mortgage credit is more difficult to get these days have some evidence to support their perception. What good are low mortgage rates if you can’t access them?
In April, mortgage credit became slightly less available, according to an index tracked by the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA), a trade organization in Washington, D.C.
The index incorporates credit scores, loan types and other metrics used by more than 85 lenders and mortgage investors.
The trend line has been anything but clear in the short term.
In the last six months of 2013, mortgage credit availability increased, decreased slightly, decreased again, increased slightly and, in December, stayed essentially flat.
In the first three months of 2014, mortgage credit availability increased, increased slightly and then increased slightly again. But then came April’s decrease, reversing part of the apparent gain in 2014 compared with 2013.
In a statement, MBA Chief Economist Mike Fratantoni said the April data continued to show these countervailing trends.
Lenders eased credit restrictions for jumbo loans as well as some conventional loans and conforming loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration. But at the same time, mortgage investors shut down or tightened credit criteria for certain other loan programs, Fratantoni said.
Long-term credit constraints
The short-term isn’t the whole story, however.
The index the MBA uses to track mortgage credit availability now offers not only one-month snapshots, but also an expanded historical series that tracks back to 2004, a 10-year period that includes the housing boom and housing crisis.
A chart of this data shows that mortgage credit availability rose sharply in 2005 and then dropped steeply in 2007 to below-normal levels that have prevailed since 2008. Despite monthly upticks and down-ticks, the level of credit availability has remained severely constrained by historic standards since the onset of the Great Recession.
Never returning to normal?
“It is particularly important with these data to distinguish between pre-recessionary periods and what might be considered ‘normal,’ Fratantoni said. “Given the new regulatory environment, there is no guarantee we will return to those (normal) levels.”