More Wash. homeowners tap federal refinance program

Lamm-Greg.jpgGreg LammStaff Writer- Puget Sound Business JournalEmail | Twitter
About 26,000 Washington state homeowners took advantage of a special federal program to refinance their loans in the first nine months of 2012, an increase of 41 percent when compared to the entire year of 2011.
The data come from the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
About 3,400 Washington homeowners who were considered significantly underwater on their loans (above 105 percent of loan-to-home value) refinanced through the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) in the first three months of 2012. Before 2012, they were not allowed to tap into the program.
HARP has become an increasingly important tool for these homeowners to use for refinancing, even though it has not been enough to meet demand. estimates that about 38 percent of homeowners in the greater Seattle area owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth.
The boost in HARP reflects changes that the federal government made to increase access to the program. Despite those efforts, HARP has fallen short of expectations. When it was launched, it was expected to help 7 million homeowners nationally. But three and a half years later, the program has helped only about 1.7 million homeowners.
HARP was launched in April 2009 to help homeowners who were having trouble refinancing because of the drop in their home values. In Washington, about 77,000 homeowners have refinanced through HARP since the program was launched.
In 2011, the program was opened up to encourage more borrowers who were not in default or facing foreclosure to take advantage of historically low interest rates.
The program allowed homeowners to forgo the need for new property appraisals, and eliminated certain refinancing fees.
Most significantly, HARP lifted the 125 percent loan-to-value ceiling, which meant that more homeowners who were severely underwater could take advantage of the program.
Nationally, about 700,000 borrowers refinanced their mortgages through the HARP program through the first three quarters of 2012, which was an increase of 75 percent when compared to all of 2001.

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