Friday, January 30, 2009

Housing and the Federal TARP money

People all want to refinance or take out a new mortgage at the bottom of the market. Well, I wasn't sure before, but, based on what I've learned about the government's stimulus program, the time to get a mortgage is NOW. It turns out that the TARP money being given to banks isn't free. In the same way that the first-time homebuyer's tax credit sounds as though you don't have to pay it back, the TARP money has been characterized as a bailout, leading us to think that the banks are being granted the funds. But we were wrong--they have to pay it back, with 5% interest for the first number of years, and 7% interest after that.

So, while I previously thought that interest rates would just keep being forced down until people bought real estate, I now think we're at--or even past--the rate bottom. If a bank has to use money that it's paying 5% for, how many loans can it make for less than that, or even for the same amount, without incurring losses? In our WP mortgage joint venture with Webster Bank, we've seen rates, which had been at 5% with no points for a 30-year fixed mortgage, start to creep up. That now makes sense to me, and it's a call to action.

As I've said before, what you pay as a mortgage rate will matter more on the margin than what you pay for the property, so, if you have the money to buy a new home, buy it now! By the time you realize that rates are heading up, they will be higher yet.