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Bailout could help homebuyers

Prospective home buyers Lars Kalnajs and Leah Fuchs talk to real estate broker John Skrabec of Live Urban Real Estate in the yard of a home that has been reduced in price in Denver, Colo.

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KAI RYSSDAL: Say what you will about the bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac this weekend. But in commiting what could wind up being as much as $200 billion in taxpayer money Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson wasn't pulling any punches.

HENRY PAULSON: It would not have been in the best interests of taxpayers for the Treasury to simply make an equity investment in these enterprises in their current form.

In other words, just buying company stock wasn't going to do it. So, Paulson went all in. On top of the $200 billion I just mentioned, the government gets options to buy new stock. It'll step in to back-stop the mortgages Fannie and Freddie already hold. And a federal regulator's going to be running the two government-sponsored entities day to day.

Congratulations on your new investment, John and Jane Q. Taxpayer. As far as what it actually means for you and me? Here's Marketplace's Janet Babin from North Carolina Public Radio.


JANET BABIN: If you're trying to get a mortgage, the bailout could make it easier.

Now that the government's officially backing Fannie and Freddie's housing debt, investors may be more willing to buy it. That could make more credit available, and get more houses sold.

Tom LaMalfa is with mortgage research firm Wholesale Access.

Tom LaMalfa: The rescue's biggest boost for consumers really may come from a renewed confidence from banks for mortgages.

Another silver lining for consumers could be lower mortgage rates and fees.

Josh Rosner is managing director at Graham Fisher and Company. He says banks will be more willing to negotiate with qualified home buyers. That's because banks know that Fannie and Freddie are ready to purchase the loans and repackage them.

Josh Rosner: If you have an adjustable rate mortgage, it could have some benefit for you, and it may certainly make it easer for people to refinance.

But not all experts think the bailout will benefit homebuyers. Richard Bove at investment bank Ladenburg Thalmann says, eventually, the takeover will reduce the number of mortgages available. Starting in 2010, Fannie and Freddie will have to drop their mortgage holdings by 10 percent each year.

Richard Bove: There will be less money available for mortgages, because there will be less Fannie and Freddie.

And the rescue won't come cheap. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said it would be difficult to know the ultimate cost. What we do know is that taxpayers will foot the bill.

I'm Janet Babin for Marketplace.

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