The good news for builders is that the Federal Reserve's new "truth in lending" rules will have little impact on new-home builders in the near future. The bad news is the reason why.
"In the short run, the new regulations will not matter much at all because the problems that the home building industry is facing are so much larger than this," says Richard Green, director and chairman of the Lusk Center for Real Estate at the University of Southern California, referring to the many factors behind the current housing slump.
And, practically speaking, most mortgage lenders have already tightened their standards in response to the waves of foreclosures hitting states from California to Florida. "It's just a much more restrictive environment," says Dave Ledford, the NAHB's staff vice president for housing finance and housing policy, who says "the impact [of the new rules] has already occurred."
Green agrees, particularly since the Fed's new rules focus primarily on "higher-priced" loans, its phrase for subprime mortgages. "Subprime mortgages are essentially gone [at the moment], so the fact that the rules don't take effect until 2009 doesn't matter."
What does matter is that the Fed's changes will be permanent and not simply subject to the whims of a falling or rising market. "Just the fact that there will be more regulation will probably reduce the availability of credit," Green says. "Three years ago, I would have thought that was a bad thing. Now, I'm not so sure that's a bad thing."
Alison Rice is senior editor, online, at BUILDER magazine.