Government lifts rule discouraging flipping; homes can be bought and resold within 90 days

Date: Jan. 18th, 2010
Contact: Leslie Berkman The Press Enterprise
In a move that could make foreclosed properties more attractive to investors and increase the number of homes available to first-time buyers, the federal government is temporarily lifting a prohibition against providing FHA mortgage insurance for homes that are resold within 90 days.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development designed the regulation to discourage the flipping of houses by investors that drove up prices during the housing market boom of a few years ago. But critics say its unintended affect has been to reduce the options of first-time buyers who already are competing for a shrunken supply of homes for sale.

Last year banks slowed the flow of properties headed to foreclosure, possibly in an effort to modify troubled mortgages to make them more affordable or to avoid posting losses when the homes are sold.

The waiver on the purchase of flipped houses with FHA mortgages, which begins February 1 and is effective for one year, “will give FHA borrowers access to a broader array of recently foreclosed properties,” HUD said Friday in announcing the change.

Conditions attached to the waiver are expected to prevent what HUD called “predatory practices” by investors. For instance when a house is resold within 90 days of purchase at a price that is 20 percent higher, the seller would have to justify the increase, such as by showing how much was spent on repairs and renovation.

Some real estate experts complain that investors who come into the foreclosure market with cash have an unfair advantage over first-time buyers who are less attractive to the banks because they frequently can afford only minimum down payments.

Other experts argue that investors perform a community service by buying and fixing up the most distressed and vandalized foreclosed houses that otherwise would be uninhabitable and ineligible for FHA financing. But they add that in many cases investors have not been able to sell the refurbished houses to FHA buyers because they could not wait 90 days to recoup their purchase, rehabilitation and holding costs.

So instead of first-time buyers with FHA mortgages getting such houses, they often have been sold to other investors who have converted them to rentals or to people who could afford the larger down payments required for conventional financing.

Rich Cosner, president of Prudential California Realty with nine office in Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, said because of the FHA restriction against insuring loans on houses bought from flippers, many first-time buyers “were locked out of some of the best houses.”

Investor-owned houses that are “flipped” represent “a small but growing percentage of the resale market,” said Andrew LePage, a spokesman for DataQuick Information Systems, which tracks housing sales and prices. LePage said absentee buyers, most of whom are investors, in December accounted for 24 percent of sales in Riverside County and 28 percent in San Bernardino County.

In November homes resold after being owned no more than 180 days represented 3 percent of sales in Riverside County and 4 percent in San Bernardino County, LePage said.

Nicholas Manfredi, president of the Corona-based Inland Empire Investors Forum, said HUD’s waiver was greeted with joy by his investor colleagues. “They were high fiving me in the gym this morning,” he said Monday.

Manfredi said he is certain the change will attract more investors who will buy houses in neighborhoods dominated by FHA buyers. He said previously some investors shied away from these lower price neighborhoods, which he said had the effect of perpetuating community blight.

However Manfredi said the future of the Inland foreclosure market is too murky for him to recommend that investors dive into flipping. His biggest worry, he said, is that the change in federal policy may mean that the government expects banks to start allowing their backlog of delinquent loans to rush to foreclosure. If that happens, he said, home prices will fall and harm anyone needing to quickly sell investment properties.

Several local real estate agents, including Joyce Aragon, a sales agent for All National Realty in Ontario and president of the Inland Valley Association of Realtors, say in recent weeks they have seen an uptick in the volume of repossessed homes coming to market. Pete Nyiri, owner of Top Producers Realty in Corona, a major broker of repossessed houses, said the number of foreclosures that banks assigned to him last month increased 40 percent and many of those have yet to be listed.