The subprime credit crunch is beginning to ensnare even borrowers with good credit.
Lenders are increasingly refusing to lend to homebuyers who can’t make a down payment of more than 5 percent, especially if they won’t document their income. Until recently such borrowers qualified for so-called Alt A mortgages, which rank between prime and subprime in terms of risk. Last year the category accounted for about 20 percent of the $3 trillion of U.S. mortgages, about the same as subprime loans, according to Credit Suisse Group.
“It’s going to be very difficult, if not impossible, to do a no-money-down loan at any credit score,” said Alex Gemici, president of Parsippany, New Jersey-based mortgage bank Montgomery Mortgage Capital Corp. Companies that buy the loans “are all saying if they haven’t eliminated them yet, they’ll eliminate them shortly.”
Tighter lending standards may slash subprime mortgage sales in half this year and Alt A mortgages by a quarter, according to Ivy Zelman, a Credit Suisse analyst in New York who covers homebuilders. The new requirements will force some prospective homebuyers to save more money for a down payment or risk being denied credit.
Bear Stearns Cos., General Electric Co.’s WMC Mortgage, Countrywide Financial Corp., IndyMac Bancorp Inc., Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and Credit Suisse have all said in the last two weeks they’re pulling back from buying Alt A mortgages sold with no down payment or in a refinancing of the house’s entire value. Such companies facilitate the mortgage market by buying loans and repackaging them for sale as bonds to buyers such as insurers and hedge funds.
“We’ve been warned,” said Cheryl Hand, manager of Prudential New Jersey Properties’ office in Manalapan, New Jersey. She said she’s hoping a client of her realty brokerage who’s been approved to buy a home with nothing down won’t have the loan quashed before the closing.
Late payments of at least 60 days and defaults on Alt A mortgages have risen about as fast as on subprime ones, to about 2.4 percent, according to bond analysts at UBS AG. Loans in the category made to borrowers with low credit scores, equity and documentation are doing about as badly as subprime loans, according to Citigroup Inc. and Bear Stearns analysts.
“If you couldn’t sell something, you wouldn’t do it either,” UBS analyst David Liu in New York said. Part of the problem is falling demand for “piggyback” home-equity loans used to make down payments, he said.
New York-based Citigroup will no longer buy home-equity loans made to borrowers who won’t prove their incomes and want more than 95 percent of their home’s value, according to e-mails from salespeople. Mark Rogers, a spokesman, declined to comment.
New York-based Bear Stearns, the third-largest Alt A lender according to newsletter National Mortgage News, last week stopped buying such loans without down payments of at least 5 percent. For borrowers not fully documenting incomes or assets, the maximum loan-to-value ratio will be 90 percent.