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On January 21, HUD issued Mortgagee Letter 2014-02, which implements new manual underwriting standards announced in December 2013. The new standards and guidance will be effective for all case numbers assigned on or after April 21, 2014, and will apply to (i) loans involving borrowers without a credit score which were not scored against FHA’s TOTAL Scorecard; (ii) loans receiving a “Refer” scoring recommendation from FHA’s TOTAL Scorecard; and (iii) loans receiving an “Accept” scoring recommendation from FHA’s TOTAL Scorecard but which have been downgraded to a “Refer” by the underwriter. In addition, the standards apply when a loan receiving an “Accept” scoring recommendation is downgraded to a “Refer.” The HUD guidance addresses (i) maximum qualifying ratios for all manually underwritten loans based on the minimum decision credit score; (ii) revised compensating factors that must be used in order to exceed FHA’s standard qualifying ratios; and (iii) the requirement for cash reserves equal to one or more total monthly mortgage payments for manually underwritten loans involving one and two unit properties.
On December 30, HUD finalized revisions to the system used by the FHA to measure and inform mortgagees of their loss mitigation performance. The revisions, finalized in Mortgagee Letter 2013-46, involve more comprehensive metrics to evaluate mortgagees on their overall performance with regard to delinquent loan servicing, as opposed to the limited review of default reporting of forbearance actions and loss mitigation and foreclosure claims paid under the previous system. The evaluation will be used to determine which mortgagees are eligible for additional incentive payments during the January 1, 2014 through December 31, 2014, calendar year. The final system is substantially similar to the proposed version, with some changes made in response to comments. HUD also updated the final scoring methodology using new default status codes delineated in Mortgagee Letter 2013-15. Also in its responses to comments, HUD agreed that it should improve loss mitigation performance by imposing penalties in individual cases of non-compliance with its loss mitigation requirements, stating that with the implementation of TRS II, HUD will have the granular data required for referral to enforcement divisions for “meaningful consequences to be imposed.”
On December 20, HUD announced in Mortgagee Letter 2013-45 that new requirements related to the FHA’s Home Equity Conversion Mortgage program (HECM) are tolled pending further guidance from the agency. Since announcing the new financial assessment requirements and funding requirements for the payment of property charges in September 2013, HUD has received comments that require HUD to update the requirements and guidance. Given those changes, HUD delayed the original date for compliance with the requirements—January 13, 2014—and will set a new effective date when it issues the updated guidance. Mortgagees will have at least 90 days to comply with the new guidance.
On December 6, HUD announced new loan maximum limits for FHA-insured mortgages. As detailed in Mortgagee Letter 2013-43, effective for all FHA case numbers assigned on or after January 1, 2014 through December 31, 2014, the current high-cost area “ceiling” of $729,750 will be reduced to $625,500. HUD stated that approximately 650 counties will have lower limits as a result of this change. Mortgages that meet the requirements for streamline refinance transactions without an appraisal are not subject to the new limits. Further, the Mortgagee Letter leaves the current standard loan limit for low cost areas unchanged at $271,050, and the maximum claim amount for FHA-insured reverse mortgages (HECMs) will remain $625,500.
On December 6, HUD issued Mortgagee Letter 2013-44, which updates HUD’s policies on (i) the use of an FHA-insured mortgage to purchase a HUD REO property; and (ii) the use of distressed properties in determining the market value of REO properties. With regard to the first, the letter provides a chart of conditions that trigger a requirement for the mortgagee to order a new appraisal. According to the letter, if a new appraisal is ordered, then (i) the original appraisal ordered by HUD may not be used to underwrite the loan; (ii) HUD will not reimburse the mortgagee for the cost of the new appraisal and the borrower/purchaser can be charged for the expense of the new appraisal as part of the borrower’s closing costs; (iii) the mortgagee must provide a written justification for ordering a new appraisal; and (iv) the mortgagee must retain copies of all appraisals available to the mortgagee in its loan file. With regard to establishing market value of REO properties, the letter details the conditions implicit in HUD’s characterization that a market value price should “reflect the price appropriate for properties sold in a competitive and open market, under all conditions requisite to a fair sale, with the buyer and seller each acting prudently and knowledgeably, and assuming the price is not affected by undue stimulus.” In addition, the letter states that, when considering sales to be used as comparables, the appraiser must note the conditions of sale and the motivations of the sellers and purchasers, and that in developing an opinion of market value, REO sales and pre-foreclosure sales transactions should only be chosen as comparables if there is compelling evidence in the market to warrant their use. Mortgagees are required to implement the policy changes in the letter by February 4, 2014.
On November 13, HUD issued Mortgagee Letter 2013-41, which, effective immediately, clarifies self-reporting requirements for all single-family FHA-approved lenders. The letter details lenders’ obligations to report all findings of fraud and material misrepresentations, as well as any material findings concerning origination, servicing, or underwriting of a loan that the lender is unable to mitigate. The letter defines “material finding” and provides a non-exhaustive list of examples, and describes the parameters for mitigating reportable findings. The letter outlines internal and external reporting timeframes: (i) internal reporting to senior management must take place within 30 days of an initial findings report; (ii) findings of fraud or material misrepresentation must be reported immediately to the FHA; and (iii) all other material findings must be reported no later than 30 days after the lender has completed its internal evaluation, or within 60 days of initial disclosure, whichever occurs first. The letter also explains that the FHA may request supporting documentation for use in reviewing a report, and that the FHA requires the reporting contact to have immediate access to: (i) the endorsement case binder; (ii) the quality control report; and (iii) any other documentation necessary to evaluate the finding. The letter further states that failure to comply with these requirements may result in the FHA taking administrative action against the lender.
On November 1, HUD issued Mortgagee Letter 2013-40, which clarifies requirements under FHA’s mandatory loss mitigation program and sets expectations for servicers engaging in loss mitigation during the foreclosure process. The letter states that servicers must (i) evaluate on a monthly basis all loss mitigation tools available for delinquent borrowers, (ii) document those evaluations, and (iii) timely evaluate borrower loss mitigation requests and provide specified written responses. HUD emphasizes that servicers may reduce challenges to foreclosure actions by providing thorough explanations about appeal or escalation processes. The letter further advises servicers that a foreclosure may not be commenced for monetary default unless at least three consecutive monthly payments are unpaid, and details other conditions under which a foreclosure may be initiated. Many of these requirements do not apply if the property has been abandoned or vacant for more than 60 days. Once a foreclosure has been initiated, HUD expects servicers to continue to attempt to communicate with borrowers about potential loss mitigation options based on changing circumstances. The letter also (i) details in a chart the actions the servicer must take when it receives a loss mitigation request from a borrower, (ii) discusses servicer requests for additional borrower documents, (iii) identifies events that trigger extensions of time for initiating a foreclosure, and (iv) outlines steps for terminating foreclosures. All of the requirements in the letter are effective January 1, 2014.
On September 27, HUD issued three Mortgagee Letters. In Mortgagee Letter 2013-34, HUD announced the indefinite delay of pre-foreclosure sale (PFS) requirements for FHA mortgagees, which were announced in July. Mortgagee Letter 2013-35 announces that, effective March 31, 2014, HUD will consolidate the identification numbers it issues to FHA lenders under Title I and II. Finally, Mortgagee Letter 2013-36 updates guidance regarding 203(k) insured mortgages in the Hurricane Sandy disaster area.
On September 25, HUD issued Mortgagee Letter 2013-33, which clarifies the recent changes HUD made to its HECM program earlier this month through Mortgagee Letter 2013-27. The new letter (i) defines mandatory obligation, (ii) adds additional mandatory obligations for traditional and refinance transactions, and for purchase transactions, (iii) identifies items that must be included in the first twelve-month disbursement limit and initial MIP calculation, (iv) states that the monthly increase to the principal limit must include the annual mortgage insurance rate as well as the mortgage note interest rate, (v) corrects the calculation of the life-expectancy set-aside, (vi) makes accommodations for mortgagors who entered into a bona fide sales contract and made an earnest money deposit on a property before the issuance of Mortgagee Letter 2013-27, and (vii) clarifies an exception to the general policy that a mortgagee increase the available principal limit if the mortgagor makes a partial payment. On September 20, HUD issued Mortgagee Letter 2013-32 to supersede its prior guidance regarding loss mitigation in Mortgagee Letter 2012-22. The letter, among other things, (i) defines “continuous income,” other than wages, for loss mitigation evaluations, and other terms, (ii) establishes the conditions required for a “special forbearance” to be used as a loss mitigation tool, (iii) provides guidance on capitalization of arrearages for modifications and partial claims, and (iv) discusses working with mortgagors in bankruptcy and those failing to complete trial payment plans. Mortgagees are required to implement the policies in Mortgagee Letter 2013-32 by December 1, 2013.
On September 5, HUD issued Mortgagee Letter 2013-29 regarding the application of unused borrower funds from an escrow account on an existing mortgage in FHA-insured refinance transactions. The letter states that mortgagees processing such refinances may apply unused borrower funds from an existing mortgage for any purpose authorized by the borrower, and the return of unused funds to the borrower at closing is not considered cash back to the borrower. Further, the letter provides documentation and submission requirements evidencing borrower authorization for application of unused escrow funds. The letter also reminds mortgagees that calculating the maximum mortgage on a streamline refinance transaction starts with the outstanding principal balance of the existing loan, not the payoff amount.