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Correspondence from the Upcoming Downpayment War

by Chicago Agent

Proposed minimum down payments for GSE-backed loans are worrying some lenders and analysts.

Down payments can make or break a housing contract, and recent data from LendingTree, which reports that the average down payment on homes is just 12 percent, would appear to be welcome news. After all, high down payments and stricter financing are often pegged as major inhibitors of a housing recovery.

A new piece by Kate Berry of National Mortgage News, though, highlights an implicit detail of the down payment debate that may render such data mute – the coming war on mandatory minimum down payments.

According to Berry’s article, one of the many mandates in the recently-passed Dodd-Frank Act establishes a minimum 20 percent down payment for “qualified residential mortgage” borrowers to exempt the loans from risk detention. The mandate would primarily effect loans insured by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which typically carry down payments between 3 and 5 percent.

Doug Lebda, the chief executive of LendingTree, said in an interview with American Banker that he is unsupportive of the mandate.

“I don’t like the entire concept at all … [it] would be a significant exclusion of people out of the market,” Lebda said.

Lebda also said that though down payments can vary wildly, he still supports a down payment requirement on the lower end of the spectrum.

“You’re dealing here in averages. In this data some borrowers have put 40 percent down and some have put 5 percent down,” Lebda said. “I’m for the 5 percent.”

Another oft-mentioned number that is constantly floated around for minimum down payments is 10 percent , especially considering that in many markets the average down payment is in far excess of 5 percent. New Jersey, for instance, leads the U.S. with an average of 13.8 percent, while homebuyers put down 13.6 percent in California, 13.5 percent in Washington D.C. and New York and 13.4 percent in Hawaii.

Tennessee, Wyoming, Oklahoma and Utah all came in at the bottom of average down payments, with the median between 11.4 and 11.7 percent.

But what do you make of the down payment debate? Would higher average down payments purify loans and reduce risk, or would they further restrict credit and limit homeownership to only a select few? And does a minimum down payment even exist, or should the system remain fluid and adapt to differing credit requirements for different consumers?

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