Some buyers might struggle to gain approval for a home loan as lenders are starting to tighten their credit standards.
The Mortgage Bankers Association said that mortgage credit availability, which is a measure of lender’s willingness to approve a home loan, is now at its lowest level since 2014.
“Because mortgage credit is more difficult to obtain, it is a more competitive environment overall,” Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors, told The Wall Street Journal.
Lenders have been issuing new mortgages at record levels during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Journal said that most of those loans are going to people with stellar credit histories or those who have enough cash to make a sizable down payment. Almost 70% of mortgages granted in 2020 went to people with a credit score of at least 760, data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York shows. The median credit score for borrowers with approved mortgages in the fourth quarter of 2020 was 786.
Experts say lenders are now being more cautious about issuing home loans at a time when the housing market is surging due to strong demand from buyers and rising prices. Mortgage loan availability dropped by about 35% in 2020, as lenders look to protect themselves amid concern that some people might lose their jobs due to the pandemic.
Lenders are also worried about forbearance, the Journal said. In order to secure a mortgage, some borrowers have reportedly been asked to sign a statement that says they have no intention of requesting forbearance once they have been approved for their loan. It’s not clear if borrowers could be legally held to that statement, as the current forbearance period has been mandated at a federal level, but it may offer lenders some protection.
“The meteoric growth of home prices has made some lenders reluctant to take on first-time home buyers or others they view as slightly risky,” the Journal said. “Lenders who were comfortable offering mortgages of $300,000 or $320,000 to borrowers with good-but-not-great credit histories might not be willing to lend the $350,000 or more now required to buy the same property.”
Lenders typically weigh multiple variables when considering whether or not to approve a home loan, including the applicant’s credit score, employment history, income and debt level.
Still, the Journal said that those who do have a mortgage application rejected might want to wait a few months before trying again. It said that credit requirements are expected to be eased this year as mortgage rates are expected to rise. Rising rates usually leads to a decline in refinance applications, and so lenders will probably try to make up for that lost business by issuing more loans to home buyers, said MBA Chief Economist Mike Fratantoni.
“Since lenders aren’t being flooded with calls to refinance, more of their resources can be used to reach out to first-time buyers for purchases, Fratantoni said.