Sunday, July 27, 2008

Housing Bill

We saw a lot of coverage to last week’s House vote to offer $300 billion in assistance to troubled homeowners and to throw government support behind Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The bill has won endorsements from key senators in both parties and convinced President Bush to withdraw his long-standing veto threat.

Major provisions of the bill for mortgage markets include permanently increasing the cap on the size of mortgages guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to a maximum of $625,000 from $417,000. It would also raise the FHA maximum loan limits for high-cost areas to $625,000. For first-time home buyers, the bill includes a tax refund worth up to 10% of a home’s purchase price but no more than $7,500. That said, the refund really isn’t a refund – it’s more of an interest-free loan, because the “refund” has to be repaid over 15 years in equal installments.

The bill will likely give the mortgage and housing markets an immediate boost, but let’s not get carried away with the back-slapping. Artificial stimulus packages are fickle; you can’t be assured that what you want stimulated is actually being stimulated. Besides, markets, if left to their own devices, eventually get it right, though sometimes not as quickly as we’d like. But when they do get it right, they tend to get it right on a more permanent footing.

Eric P. Egeland

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