For years the federal government prohibited mortgage financing for buyers purchasing homes from sellers who had owned the property for less than 90 days.
The idea was to prevent speculators from defrauding the government through quick flips of houses - often involving straw buyers and corrupt appraisers - at wildly inflated prices. We can all agree that was a good intention.
However, a side effect of that policy had been to stifle purchase-and-renovate projects by legitimate, small-scale investors who buy houses after foreclosure or loan defaults and then resell them in substantially improved condition. In many parts of the country, first-time and moderate-income buyers often sought to buy these fixed-up houses using FHA-insured mortgages with 3.5% down payments, but were prevented from doing so by the "anti-flipping" rule.
This left large numbers of foreclosed, vacant houses sitting unsold and deteriorating, with negative effects on the values of neighboring properties.
Last January, FHA Commissioner David H. Stevens announced a one-year suspension of that rule, permitting qualified buyers to obtain FHA mortgages on properties that were acquired by rehabbers less than 90 days before. The plan, set to expire at the end of this month, came with safeguards for purchasers, including inspections and multiple appraisals in some cases to document the amounts spent by investors on the improvements.
Vicki Bott, deputy assistant secretary for single-family housing at the FHA, confirmed in an interview that the agency expects to continue the policy for another year. Not only have first-time buyers responded overwhelmingly to the opportunity to buy "turnkey" renovated homes with low down payments, she said, but they have performed well on their mortgage obligations.
Adapted from an article on By Kenneth R. Harney, Los Angeles Times on January 16, 2011