Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

October 7, 2016

Can Seniors Get Mortgages? Should They?

By David Reiss

photo by Bill Branson quoted me in Can Seniors Get Home Mortgages? Should They? It reads, in part,

Senior citizens can and are getting approved for mortgages, and we are not talking reverse mortgages or home equity lines of credit, but – in many cases – 30-year fixed loans. Even when the borrower might be 85 and the actuarial probability of making it to the end of the loan term is nil.

The federal government is blunt: age cannot be used to discriminate against applicants for home loans. Capacity to repay is a factor – for seniors and every other borrower – but a lender cannot turn down an applicant just because he is 65…or 75…or 85. And loans are getting made.

Which raises the other question: is it wise for the borrower? Bankers can take care of themselves, but seniors need to ask: should I be borrowing a lot of money on a house at my age?

In Vancouver, Wash., Dick Kuiper – who said he is “approaching 70,” as is his wife – “just purchased a new home last year and got a 30 year mortgage at just under 3%, and we both believe this was a brilliant move.”

“We first made sure we made a large enough down payment so we would always have positive equity in the home,” Kuiper elaborates. “With that calculated, we looked at the alternatives, either pay in cash – which would naturally come out of our savings – or take out a mortgage. We looked at what we could get by putting the same amount of money into a retirement annuity with a downside guarantee. That annuity pays a minimum of 5% for life and currently is paying in the 8% to 9% range. Do the math. We’d be crazy to pay cash for the house.”

Kuiper’s right. For his wife and him, it made no sense to pay cash for a house – not when mortgage rates are breathtakingly low.

Case closed? Not at all.

Ash Toumayants, founder of financial advisors Strong Tower Associates in State College, Pa., said that in his experience few seniors ever want another mortgage in retirement after they settled up on their first one. “Most are excited when they pay it off and don’t want another one,” Toumayants says.

Another fact: to get a mortgage, a senior has to demonstrate to a lender a capacity to repay. Age cannot be used against a senior, but lack of cashflow can. And many seniors just have sizable trouble qualifying for a mortgage. “The trick is whether they have enough income to qualify or not,” said Casey Fleming, a mortgage expert in Northern California who said that he right now is working on a loan for an 85-year-old client.

Brian Koss, executive vice president of Mortgage Network, an independent mortgage lender in the eastern U.S., elaborated: “For seniors thinking about getting a mortgage, it’s all about income flow. If you have a consistent source of income, and a mortgage payment that fits that income, it makes sense. Something else to consider: if you have income, you have taxes and a need for a tax deduction. With a mortgage, you can write off the interest.”

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But then there is an ugly issue to confront. Is the senior arriving at this purchase decision on his own steam? Brooklyn Law professor David Reiss explained why that needs to be asked. “Seniors should discuss big financial moves with someone whose judgment they trust (and who does not stand to benefit from the decision). Elder financial abuse is rampant.”

Reiss added: “What has changed in their financial profile that is leading them to do this? Is someone – a relative, a new friend – egging them on or leading them through the process?” Reiss is right in the caution, and that’s a concern that has to be satisfied.

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Friday’s Government Reports Roundup

By Robert Engelke

  • The ADP National Employment Report predicted a gain in jobs in September similar to the previous month’s increase.
  • Predictions from the National Association of Realtors, the Mortgage Bankers Association,Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac show that home sales are going to heat up in 2017, according to a blog by NAR.
  • While small, mortgage applications ticked up 2.9% from one week earlier, according the Mortgage Bankers Association’s latest Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending Sept. 30.

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October 7, 2016 | Permalink | No Comments

October 6, 2016

Credit Card Debt and Your Mortgage

By David Reiss


photo by B Rosen quoted me in Fannie Mae Taking a Closer Look at Applicants’ Credit Card Payments. It opens,

If you feel like you’ve been managing your debt just fine, making the minimum payment on your credit cards on time every month, you might want to change your ways before applying for a home loan.

Fannie Mae, which offers government-backed loans to more than a quarter of mortgage applicants nationwide, has just revised its risk assessment software to factor in more details about how borrowers pay off their debts.

Historically, the credit report generated by Fannie Mae—and scrutinized by lenders—mainly showed how much of your available credit you’d used and whether you’d made your monthly payments on time. But the newest version of Fannie’s Desktop Underwriter software (used by about 2,000 lenders and more than 10,000 mortgage brokers) kicks things up a notch. Now, it also details just how much you coughed up each month over the past two years—whether you’re parting with only the minimum, laying out the full monty, or hovering somewhere in between.

Fannie officials say these new details, known as “trended credit data,” can help lenders better assess how well people manage their debts—and, consequently, how well they’ll manage their mortgage payments.

“Generally, the new underwriting model gives weight to how borrowers pay off their credit debt,” explains David Reiss, research director at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School. “While it is not clear how finely tuned the new system is, there is clearly a move toward a more granular approach to debt repayment.”

How this news affects your prospects of a home loan

So far, FICO and other credit score measures aren’t factoring in this extra info, so your score won’t get dinged. But your application could be affected in another way.

“If you compare two people with exactly the same credit profiles except that one pays more than the minimum amount due or the entire balance, that person would be considered to be a lower credit risk by Fannie Mae,” says Reiss. “As a result, that person would be more likely to be approved for a mortgage.”

But you might not have to pay much more than the minimum to boost your chances of getting that loan.“At this time it’s unclear what impact to mortgage scoring and automated underwriting the payment history will have, but we believe anyone that is paying 30% or more of their balance monthly will see improvement,” says San Diego loan officer Michael Rosenbaum at CrossCountry Mortgage.

Of course, people who pay off the whole balance every month will be favored even more, and with good reason.

“Research has indicated that borrowers who paid off their credit card debt every month are 60% less likely to become delinquent than borrowers who make only the monthly minimum payment,” Rosenbaum adds.

And while this might sound ominous, it could actually be helpful if you had some credit blemishes in your past.

“Fannie has also indicated that paying more than the minimum due will particularly help borrowers with delinquencies on their credit report, because it will allow borrowers to ‘demonstrate that a late payment was not deeply reflective of their general debt repayment ability and behavior,’” Reiss notes.

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Thursday’s Advocacy & Think Tank Roundup

By Robert Engelke

  • This working paper by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard compares rental housing in 12 countries in Europe and North America, using individual records from household surveys. Differences in housing characteristics, conditions, and costs across countries reflect a number of factors, including demographics, geography, culture, and government policies.
  • An article by Housing Horizon begins: The cost of single-family construction varies throughout the nation, but generally speaking the cost to develop a single-family home on a plot of land is greater than the comparable cost of other housing types such as twin homes, townhomes, condominiums, etc.  Given the additional expense, should affordable single-family homeownership be considered a viable form of affordable housing for the future?

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October 5, 2016

National Survey of Mortgage Originations

By David Reiss


The Federal Housing Finance Agency has issued a request for comments on the National Survey of Mortgage Originations. The NSMO is

a recurring quarterly survey of individuals who have recently obtained a loan secured by a first mortgage on single-family residential property. The survey questionnaire is sent to a representative sample of approximately 6,000 recent mortgage borrowers each calendar quarter and typically consists of between 90 and 95 multiple choice and short answer questions designed to obtain information about borrowers’ experiences in choosing and in taking out a mortgage.

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The NSMO is one component of a larger project, known as the “National Mortgage Database” (NMDB) Project, which is a multi-year joint effort of FHFA and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) (although the NSMO is sponsored only by FHFA). The NMDB Project was created, in part, to satisfy the Congressionally-mandated requirements of section 1324(c) of the Federal Housing Enterprises Financial Safety and Soundness Act of 1992, as amended by the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (Safety and Soundness Act). Section 1324(c) requires that FHFA conduct a monthly survey to collect data on the characteristics of individual prime and subprime mortgages, and on the borrowers and properties associated with those mortgages, in order to enable it to prepare a detailed annual report on the mortgage market activities of the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac) for review by the appropriate Congressional oversight committees. Section 1324(c) also authorizes and requires FHFA to compile a database of timely and otherwise unavailable residential mortgage market information to be made available to the public. (81 F.R. 62889)

Obviously, this is another post on a technical subject that is not for the faint of heart, but it is very important for the health of the mortgage market. During the Subprime Boom of the early 2000s, mortgage characteristics changed so quickly that information became outdated within months.  Policymakers and academics did not have good access to newest data and thus were operating, to a large extent, in the dark.

The information in the NSMO will not only help regulators, but will also outside researchers to “more effectively monitor emerging trends in the mortgage origination process . . ..” (81 F.R. 62890) The FHFA requests comments on whether “the collection of information is necessary for the proper performance of FHFA functions, including whether the information has practical utility.” (Id.) The FHFA is also looking for comments on ways “to enhance the quality, utility, and clarity of the information collected.” (Id.) Those with an interest in securing a safe future for our mortgage markets should take a look at the survey instrument (attached to the Comment Request) and respond to the FHFA’s request. Comments are due on or before November 14, 2016.

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Wednesday’s Academic Roundup

By Robert Engelke

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October 4, 2016

Good Fence Negotiations Make Good Neighbors

By David Reiss

man-75218_1920 quoted me in How to Build a Fence Without Ending Up in a Feud With Your Neighbors. It opens,

Good fences make good neighbors, but how do you make a good fence, exactly? After all, it’s not just a question of marking the division between two pieces of property. Do you and your neighbor both have a say on the height, style, and color—and should you split the costs evenly?

If you’re facing any of these questions as you contemplate some fence work, read on.

Does your neighbor have a say on your fence?

Whether your neighbor can weigh in depends largely on where you live, according to Marc Markel of Roberts Markel Weinberg Butler Hailey in Texas. Laws and regulations vary by state: In California, for instance, the “good neighbor fence” law requires neighbors to split the cost evenly.

To find your own local regulations, search online for “fence permit” along with your county and/or state. You can also visit Click on your state and county to get to your local government’s website, where you can find info on fence permits or a phone number under “planning and zoning” to get your questions answered.

Fences may also be regulated by a homeowners association and/or your home’s restrictive covenant, which is typically found in your property deed and states how your land can be used.

For example, the height limit for fences is typically 6 feet for back and side fences and 4 feet for front-yard fences. Some covenants will spell out how repairs and new fences should be handled between neighbors—even if you build the fence entirely on your own property—while others will not. If there are no stated restrictions, then it’s basically up to you and your neighbor to work it out together, hopefully in a friendly manner.

David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School, says it’s always best to get your neighbor’s input rather than just forging ahead. In the best-case scenario, “they may volunteer to share the cost 50-50,” he points out. Plus, there may be aesthetic issues to discuss: “Do you save money by installing a cheaper fence with a front and a back, or do you spend more money and get a fence that looks good on both sides?”

Your neighbors may have strong feelings about these issues. It’s better to hear them out sooner rather than later.

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October 4, 2016 | Permalink | No Comments