Bonds Are Back—Tax-Exempt Bonds, That Is

By Robert Freedman, Senior Editor, REALTOR® Magazine

Since the credit crunch hit a couple of years ago, investors have been shying away from tax-exempt bonds. That’s one aspect of the financial crisis that never received that much attention in the media, but the impact of that was severe on state and local housing finance agencies (HFAs), which make low-cost mortgage money available to working households that have trouble qualifying for conventional financing.

Like FHA, VA, and the Rural Housing Service (the old Farmer’s Home Administration), these state and local HFAs help make homeownership possible in a responsible way. That is, the loans are structured in ways that take into account the household’s ability to pay. And they almost always require some kind of financial counseling.

If the HFAs were sorely missed these last two years, then it’s indeed good news that investors are starting to invest in tax-exempt bonds again, because these bonds are how HFAs generate their low-cost money for making loans to eligible home buyers.

Although I don’t have data to support the contention, I wouldn’t be surprised if the return of the HFAs is one of the reasons it’s been the low-end of the housing market that’s been coming back steadily over the last several months. NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun has been saying consistently for five months that the low-end of the market is strengthening; it’s the high-end market, and some condo markets, that have been lagging.

To be sure, very attractive affordability conditions, still-low mortgage rates, and the home buyer tax credit are the big drivers in the improved sales of low-end homes. But the fact that HFAs have money to lend again is surely playing a role, too.

If you’re working with customers who are having trouble getting financing, you might consider having them contact your state or local HFA (not all localities have an HFA, but all states have one) to see if one of their homeownership programs is the way to go. You can find out who the lenders are who originate the loans for these agencies. You can also find out eligibility and application criteria.

You might be surprised by what you learn. A far wider range of households than you might think are eligible for these programs. Each one differs, of course, because they’re all trying to meet a specific public policy need, but households earning fairly reasonable income relative to their area’s median income are typically eligible. These programs are for working households.

We’ll be hosting a free webinar on this topic on Thursday, Sept. 17 , at 3 p.m. Eastern Time. We’ll be hearing from Dottie Sheppick, senior vice president of affordable housing for Bank of America Home Loans, and Linda Thrasher, a sales associate with Skogman Realty in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Both have been involved in affordable homeownership for years, and they can help you learn how you can build incremental business by better understanding how these programs work.

Here’s a link to register for the webinar: Tap Into a Growth Niche: Responsible, Affordable Homeownership.

Robert Freedman

Robert Freedman is director of multimedia communications for the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. He can be reached at

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