Higher loan limits transform FHA into key source of financing (Continued)

What will this mean for buyers from now through the end of 2013, when the compromise expires?

“There’s no doubt this will drive more business to FHA,” said David H. Stevens, former FHA commissioner and current president and chief executive of the Mortgage Bankers Assn.

“FHA is going to become the darling of the industry again,” said Annie Austin, a loan officer with Cobalt Mortgage in Bellevue, Wash.

Bob Walters, chief economist of national lender Quicken Loans, said he thinks the increased loan limits will benefit many consumers, “especially those looking to borrow larger amounts,” he said, but who “are in a credit situation where Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans are not available or optimal.”

The switch to the FHA could entail some pain, however. Tim Kepler, a loan officer with Land Home Financial in Danville, Calif., noted that the agency raised its upfront mortgage insurance premiums from 0.5% of the loan amount to 1.15% earlier this year. This will increase applicants’ closing costs over a Fannie or Freddie loan, he said.

The premium can be financed, but can add substantially to the costs of high-balance mortgages. Bruce Calabrese, president of Equitable Mortgage in Columbus, Ohio, said the hefty new premiums make “FHA too restrictive and unattractive” for most refinancers in his area, even with slightly higher loan ceilings.

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