From the NY Times (Hat tip Shore):
How might home buying change if the federal government shuts down the housing finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac?
The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage loan, the steady favorite of American borrowers since the 1950s, could become a luxury product, housing experts on both sides of the political aisle say.
Interest rates would rise for most borrowers, but urban and rural residents could see sharper increases than the coveted customers in the suburbs.
Lenders could charge fees for popular features now taken for granted, like the ability to “lock in” an interest rate weeks or months before taking out a loan.
Douglas J. Elliott, a financial policy fellow at the Brookings Institution, said Congress was being forced for the first time in decades to grapple with the cost of subsidizing middle-class mortgages. The collapse of Fannie and Freddie took with it the pretense that the government could do so at no risk to taxpayers, he said.
“The politicians would like something that provides a deep and wide subsidy for housing that doesn’t show up on the budget as costing anything. That’s what we had” with Fannie and Freddie, Mr. Elliott said. “But going forward there is going to be more honest accounting.”
Some Republicans and Democrats say the price is too high. They want the government to pull back, letting the market dictate price, terms and availability.
“A purely private mortgage finance market is a very serious and very achievable goal,” Representative Scott Garrett, the New Jersey Republican who oversees the subcommittee that oversees Fannie and Freddie, said at a hearing this week. “No one serious in this debate believes our housing market will return to the 1930s.”
Hanging in the balance are the basic features of a mortgage loan: the interest rate and repayment period.
Fannie and Freddie allow people to borrow at lower rates because investors are so eager to pump money into the two companies that they accept relatively modest returns. The key to that success is the guarantee that investors will be repaid even if borrowers default — a promise ultimately backed by taxpayers.
A long line of studies has found that the benefit to borrowers is relatively modest, less than one percentage point. But that was before the flood. Fannie, Freddie and other federal programs now support roughly 90 percent of new mortgage loans because lenders cannot raise money for mortgages that do not carry government guarantees.
One prominent investor, William H. Gross, the co-head of Pimco, the major bond investment firm, has estimated that he would demand a premium of three percentage points to buy such loans — a cost that would be passed on to the borrower.
Longer terms make ownership affordable only by increasing the total cost of the loan, because the borrower pays interest for a longer period. Moreover, Mr. Pollock noted that over the last several years, borrowers with adjustable-rate loans paid less as interest rates fell, while those with fixed rates kept paying the same amount for devalued homes.
“One of the reasons that American housing finance is in such bad shape right now is the 30-year mortgage,” he said, noting that such loans are not available in most countries. “For many people, it’s not at all clear that that’s the best product.”