Point of Order by Matt Stashin, Pacific Residential Mortgage Company

We’ve all heard the news: the dark storm clouds of the financial meltdown will cost the taxpayer hundreds of billions of dollars, if not several trillion by the time it is all said and done. Unemployment numbers are set to skyrocket. The U.S. automakers need a bailout, following suit after so many others. Retail sales were down substantially during the holiday shopping season. People are keenly aware of the possibility of layoffs. Are we done yet? Probably not.

But amidst the ominous storm clouds lingering on the horizon, if one looks very closely, a platinum lining is visible amongst those clouds. One first reaction might be, “are you kidding?”. However, after a bit of reflection, one can begin to see the sun reflecting off that platinum lining.

Regardless of an individual’s opinion of the bailout, the soon-to-be former administration and the role of the government in residential housing, the opportunities available in the market place today are unprecedented. We all recognize home values have dropped substantially in almost every neighborhood. And if this is coupled with extremely low interest rates (did someone say rivaling the lowest in 40 years?), the buying power of the consumer has not been more keen.

One doesn’t have to look far to find a bargain. And with these interest rates, all factors have aligned in favor of the buyer. Sounds pretty good, huh? Well, it is for those who have put themselves in a good position to purchase a home. History will show them to have been very savvy. It pays to buy low, at the incredible interest rates, and watch one’s equity build substantial wealth over time.

In today’s marketplace, 20% down isn’t the only option. There still exist a limited number of financing options with little to no down payment. In order to better prepare one’s self, a quick check of your credit scores are in order. Freecreditreport.com is a way to find out how your credit history will be analyzed by lenders; credit scores in excess of 740 give access to the best programs and pricing on interest rates. At least 2 years on the job, showing steady income will help on the employment front. Assets are nice to have, but not necessary to have in abundance for all programs. One will want to make sure that checking account statements (2 month’s worth) show no overdrafts. In today’s marketplace, lenders are more cautious than ever when it comes to loaning money to buy a home, but obtaining mortgage financing is still relatively painless when one chooses to work with a seasoned professional mortgage broker.

With a mini refinance boom going on due to these record low interest rates, one issue the mortgage industry will have to face is the potential for a scarcity of funds. Today, due to the federal government’s conservatorship of Fannie and Freddie along with the strategy to have the Federal Reserve purchase mortgages, many fears have been eased regarding the availability of mortgage money. But a new problem may be just ahead. Wall Street, which capitalized about 60% of the mortgage market, has all but disappeared. Banks are publicly being told to lend money, while their regulators are telling them to maintain adequate reserves, which translates into holding onto their cash. Couple this with the mass exodus of foreign investment into the U.S. mortgage market, and one can imagine a market in which there is more demand to borrow than there is money to loan.

Consider this: the Treasury department is issuing T-bills with very low yields that may not be attractive to buyers and the Federal Reserve will, at some point, rely on the funding created by the sale of T-bills to have enough capital to continue to purchase mortgages through Fannie and Freddie. If the appetite for low-yield T-bills drops off substantially, which may be a very real possibility, a liquidity crisis in the mortgage market could manifest itself.

How does this apply to someone today who is considering purchasing a primary residence, a second home or an investment property? My point is this: don’t wait. A scarcity of funds will cause interest rates to skyrocket, overnight. Jumbo funds seem to be disappearing already, although conventional financing to loan amount limits of $417,000 is readily available. Banks don’t seem to be interested in tying up their liquidity in large loan amounts. To me, this is a sign. Not a “doom & gloom” sign, but a warning sign nevertheless. My interpretation here is now is the time to act. The banking system is sound, but mortgage financing is not the banking system. And when capital is being used at the current rate due to the refinance boom, it sets me to wondering how this will impact the availability of funds for mortgage lending throughout the course of this year.

The federal government has a very tenuous road ahead of it this year. The conservatorship of Fannie and Freddie was meant to be a temporary situation and, as it is currently in place, will terminate at the end of 2009. Between now and then, the best and brightest minds in our country will have to reinvent the mortgage market. With many banks still teetering on the edge, one must think these low interest rates will take a toll on the availability of funds. Who will be interested, long term, in 4.5% paper? As the stock market starts to rebound, investors will be looking for higher returns on their money and interest in current mortgage paper yields will wane thereby creating a scarcity of funding for new lending.

Thought the storm clouds continue to linger, and they may even get a bit darker in the near future, It is my opinion that today is perhaps the best opportunity to invest in real estate that has existed in decades. For the money, this seasoned mortgage professional thinks now is the time to get mortgage financing before it becomes a scarce resource. Those that buy houses now will likely look like a genius down the road.

Am I saying this is a sure thing? NO; any investment carries risk and should be carefully evaluated. But I am saying when one peers into the storm clouds above and sees the shiny reflection of the sun off the platinum lining, one should strongly consider that the combination of low home prices and low interest rates is a sign to buy before the clouds all break up and disappear. And everyone knows the opportunity has slipped away once the storm has passed. And so I say, keep wear a raincoat and keep an umbrella handy while shopping for a home out under the storm clouds.

Matt Stashin

Pacific Residential Mortgage, LLC
2 CenterPointe Dr. STE 500
Lake Oswego, OR 97035
(503) 619-0482 Direct
(503) 670-0674 Fax
(800) 318-4571 Toll Free

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