Tens of thousands of condominium unit owners around the country may not know it, but their ability to sell or refinance could be jeopardized by a rolling series of federal government deadlines.
Earlier this week, an estimated 2,200 condominium projects lost eligibility for unit sales or refinancings involving FHA mortgages because they had missed a key deadline for recertification set by the agency. Beginning next spring, another 23,000 projects - with residential units totaling into the estimated hundreds of thousands - could lose their eligibility as well.
What this means, say lenders and condo experts, is that unsuspecting unit owners nationwide could suddenly be cut off from an increasingly important source of mortgage money. In some markets where FHA accounts for 75 percent or more of first-time home purchases, condo sellers could be severely handicapped. In parts of the country with heavy concentrations of condos, such as Florida, California, New England, Washington, D.C., and the urban Midwest, the impact could even depress sales prices.
"This is a travesty" unfolding, said Jon Eberhardt, president of Condo Approvals LLC, a national consulting firm based in Torrance, Calif. "You've got thousands of people out there with no idea" that FHA financing could evaporate for them in the near future.
Steve Stamets, a loan officer with Union Mortgage Group in Rockville, Md., with numerous condo clients, said, "This is going to be a big problem. I expect you will have frantic sellers (of condo units) pushing management companies" to get their buildings approved.
The eligibility issue dates back to November 2009, when FHA published new rules on the types of condo projects acceptable for mortgages on unit sales and refinancings. The rules were the outgrowth of a review that found that FHA - which is essentially a government-owned insurance company - had approved thousands of projects over the previous two decades but possessed inadequate current information on their underlying homeowners associations'
budgets, legal documents, insurance coverage, renter-to-owner ratios, delinquencies on condo fee payments, the amount of commercial space, and a variety of other characteristics that could affect a project's financial stability.
The 2009 guidance spelled out toughened standards in these areas, and set up timetables for taking fresh looks at projects before sanctioning additional unit financings. Condo projects that had been approved by the FHA before October 2008, the guidance said, would have to submit the information required for renewed approval or lose eligibility for FHA financing. The deadline was Tuesday.
FHA officials issued bulletins and notices during the past year to lenders, condo management companies and consulting firms warning them about the approaching deadline. Ultimately, however, according to FHA officials, roughly 25,000 projects nationwide missed the cutoff. Officials said they had no estimate on the number of individual units affected, but clearly it's a sizable multiple of 25,000. For example, Eberhardt said the average condo project in California contains between 80 and 90 units.
Rather than abruptly eliminate financing for such a large and important segment of the country's housing market, FHA relented early in December and allowed all but 2,200 projects - generally those with previous approvals dating back the longest - to get a second chance for recertification during a series of expirations during the first half of 2011, starting next March.
Though the precise expiration schedules were not immediately available, FHA officials said they plan to notify condo associations, management companies and lenders on the specifics soon. To check the approval status of your condo project or one where you're interested in purchasing a unit, you can look online. Note that this URL includes the "https" because it is considered a secure site: https://entp.hud.gov/idapp/html/condlook.cfm.
Select by state.
What else can you do? Tops on the list, according to FHA officials, is to get in touch with the leadership of your homeowners association. Ask it to do what's necessary to get the project through the approval hoops - either by submitting the required documentation or by hiring a consulting firm or lawyer knowledgeable about FHA condo procedures. Large mortgage lenders can also get the ball rolling if they want to finance a unit in the project.
Costs for a recertification or approval can run anywhere from just less than $1,000 to more than $3,000. Time for approvals, however, may be a much more significant factor. Eberhardt says his firm can assemble documents and create a package for FHA in about five days but that the entire process can extend for another 45 days to more than 60 days if the FHA staff members are overwhelmed with applications. That just might happen in the coming weeks as unit owners begin learning about their financing cutoff deadlines.
Meanwhile, your sale or refinancing could be put on punishment hold.
Kenneth R. Harney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.