Lessening underwriting standards are the great white whale in housing’s recovery, and the 2012 Survey of Credit Underwriting Practices from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) is making some suggestions that the tide may be turning for home loans.
A survey of 87 banks with $3 billion or more in assets, the OCC’s study covered $4.6 trillion in loans as of Dec. 31, 2011, which is 91 percent of all the loans in U.S. banking.
Here’s what the OCC found for residential lending:
- Of the 84 banks the OCC surveyed that offer residential loans, 10 percent reported easing their lending requirements, up from 8 percent in 2011 and the highest since 2007.
- Sixty-five percent report their lending standards were unchanged, up from 52 percent in 2011.
- And most notable, 25 percent said lending standards had been tightened at their institution, a 37.5 percent decline from 2011.
- A look at previous years offers even bigger differences. In 2008 and 2009, not a single bank reported easing its lending standards, and from 2008 to 2009, the percent that tightened its standards rose from 56 percent to 73 percent.
Jim Merrion, the regional director for RE/MAX Northern Illinois, said that though the numbers may imply an improving lending environment, he has not seen much improvement in Chicagoland’s markets.
“It’s still one of the biggest problems we have,” Merrion said. “From what I see, there’s very little improvement.”
Between last-minute requirements from banks to double verifications (where banks verify employment, credit, deposits and other documentation before and after a transaction is initiated), Merrion said buyers are still grappling with difficult financing standards for their homes; in fact, he said his most recent refinancing, which he completed at the end of 2011, was the toughest mortgage experience he’s ever had.
“There’s a lot that’s been written about the fact that things will be picking up,” Merrion said. “I think we’ll have to wait and see, because there’s no noticeable improvement.”