Good Summary on new housing bill put out by CAR

Friday, August 01, 2008


This week, President Bush signed into law the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008. This sweeping legislation primarily seeks to protect homeowners from foreclosure, stop declining home prices, and stabilize the mortgage industry. Major provisions of the new law affecting the real estate practice are as follows:

- SELLER NEED NOT REVEAL SSN TO BUYER UNDER FIRPTA: Effective immediately, sellers are no longer required to provide to their buyers the Seller's Affidavit of Nonforeign Status (C.A.R. Form AS), which includes the sellers' social security numbers, under the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act (FIRPTA). Instead, as another option, no federal withholding is required if the seller furnishes the Seller's Affidavit with his or her social security number to escrow or other qualified substitute as defined, who in turn, furnishes a statement to the buyer stating, under penalty of perjury, that it has the Seller's Affidavit in its possession. A "qualified substitute" is a person responsible for closing the transaction, such as an escrow company, title company or the buyer's agent, but not the seller's agent. The federal withholding law is now similar to California's Franchise Tax Board (FTB) policy which allows the escrow officer to remove the seller's tax ID number from the buyer's copy of the California withholding tax statement, but not other copies.

- $300 BILLION IN FHA REFINANCING: Under the HOPE for Homeowners Program, 400,000 distressed homeowners can pay off their troubled mortgages and replace them with more affordable, FHA-insured loans. To qualify, a borrower's monthly payment on existing mortgage loans must be over 31% of his or her income as of March 1, 2008 (hence demonstrating the borrower's inability to afford the original loans). The original loans must have been originated before 2008, and secured by the borrower's principal residence (as well as only residence). Also to qualify, the borrower must satisfy FHA underwriting requirements for the new FHA-insured refinance loan.
The FHA refinance will be a fixed rate loan up to $550,400 for at least 30 years, and will include charges for FHA insurance premiums. The maximum loan-to-value ratio of the FHA refinance is 90% of the appraised value. If the refinance proceeds are insufficient to pay off the existing liens, the refinance will not go through unless the original lenders voluntarily agree to accept a short payoff as payment in full. Rules will be established to allow, among other things, equity sharing for the original junior lienholders.
Upon obtaining the FHA refinance, the borrower must share with the FHA at least 50% of any equity realized through a subsequent sale or refinance. The FHA's share in equity will be based on a sliding scale of 100% of any equity realized within the first year of the FHA loan, 90% the second year, and so on, but not less than 50%. The HOPE for Homeowners Program shall be in effect from October 1, 2008 to September 30, 2011.

- $7,500 TAX CREDIT FOR FIRST-TIME HOMEBUYERS: With certain exceptions, a first-time homebuyer will receive a tax credit of 10% of the purchase price up to $7,500 maximum, for the tax year in which the buyer purchases a principal residence. The tax credit, however, must be repaid like an interest-free loan in equal installments over the next 15 years or in full if the homebuyer sells the property for a gain. A buyer qualifies as a "first-time" homebuyer as long as the buyer (and spouse if any) has not owned a principal residence in the U.S. for the last three years. The tax credit phases out for a taxpayer with a modified adjusted gross income over $75,000 (or $150,000 for joint returns). This tax credit is available for qualifying homes purchased from April 9, 2008 through June 30, 2009.

- FANNIE MAE, FREDDIE MAC, AND FHA REFORM: The new law permanently sets the conforming loan limit for FHA and government-sponsored enterprises (GSE) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac at 115% of an area's median home price, not to exceed $625,500. The new loan limits take effect after the current $729,750 loan limit expires on December 31, 2008.
The new law also authorizes the Treasury Department to bail out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac if necessary by increasing their lines or credit or purchasing their stock. A new governmental agency, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, will be created to oversee GSE operations. Other FHA reform includes an increase in the minimum down payment requirement from 3% to 3.5%, and effective October 1, 2008, the elimination of seller-funded down payment assistance programs.

Some of the other provisions of the new Housing Act are, without limitation, $4 billion in assistance to stabilize neighborhoods hurt by the foreclosure crisis, $180 million for pre-foreclosure counseling, Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) reverse mortgage reform, assistance for veterans, and the creation of a nationwide loan originator licensing and registration system. The appropriate governmental agencies will establish new regulations as needed to carry out and enforce the new Housing Act.

Realegal® is published by the CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®, a trade association representing nearly 200,000 REALTORS® statewide.

Executive offices:
525 South Virgil Ave., Los Angeles CA 90020
phone (213) 739-8200; fax (213) 480-7724

Legislative offices:
980 Ninth Street #1430, Sacramento CA 95814
phone (916) 492-5200; fax (916) 444-2033