Tallahassee Journal

3% down payments lure first-time homebuyers

3% down payments lure first-time homebuyers

After years of moving around the country for his job with Marriott hotels, John Eddleman wanted to put down roots. Last month, he bought a brick bungalow on Des Moines’ south side, taking advantage of a recent federal policy change that allows down payments of as low as 3%. “It came at just the right time because otherwise I would have had to scrape a lot more money together,” Eddleman, 49, said. “At 3% down, you can’t pass that up.”

A collection of new policies — including lower down payment requirements, decreased mortgage insurance premiums and looser lending standards — are intended to make it easier for first-time buyers like Eddleman to get a loan. Some say the changes won’t remove the underlying hurdles for first-time buyers, like slow wage growth and student loan debt. And some lawmakers have criticized the policies as a step toward the risky lending practices that led to the 2007 housing crash. But lenders and real estate officials say they expect the changes to bring a wave of new homebuyers in 2015.

“It’s being predicted in Iowa and across the country: This is going to be a year when we see a lot of Millennials and first-time homebuyers get into the market,” said Brennan Buckley, general manager of Iowa Realty. Brad Blackwell, executive vice president with Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, said he expects first-time home sales to grow less than 10% in 2015, but he said it would still be a “meaningful” increase.

Wells Fargo, the largest mortgage lender in the country, is offering two types of 3%-down mortgages. It’s still a bit early to gauge demand, “but we’ve seen a lot of excitement about them,” Blackwell said. In the past year, Wells Fargo has rolled back several borrower requirements. The company increased the amount of “gift money,” like cash from a homebuyer’s parents, that a borrower can use toward a down payment on some loans. It also reduced the minimum credit scores for certain loans. To qualify for a 3%-down mortgage from Wells Fargo, borrowers need a credit score of at least 620. But without a good job and a solid explanation for credit blemishes, buyers will probably need a score of 660 to 680, Blackwell said. The minimum score for FHA mortgages is 600.