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Home prices firm up but lenders stay skittish

Housing prices continue to firm up, but banks still aren’t confident in the housing or job markets to loan to anyone but the safest borrowers.

Tess Vigeland: Remember the housing crisis? Well the fact that I just asked if you remember it would indicate past-tense, and indeed the latest indicators seem to show a bottoming out.

Today the online real estate site Zillow said its figures show home prices in the second quarter rose year over year for the first time since 2007. So, if housing is stabilizing why aren't banks more confident about lending to homebuyers again instead of making so many of them pay in cold, hard cash?

Our New York bureau chief, Heidi Moore, reports.


Heidi Moore: Edwin Mejia is a branch manager at a small New York bank. He oversees a whole group of loan officers. But here's how he rates his chances of qualifying for one of the loans his team gives out. 

Edwin Mejia: For myself? I'd probably say that they're slim to none.

That's how banks work today. They want a sure thing.

Mejia: I would say that yes, we are very stingy. Because we want it to be secured rather than, 'oh, let's take a chance on this person, you know?' We don't do that.

You've seen the same thing if you've tried to apply for or refinance a mortgage any time recently. Sure, the housing market is improving and the crisis itself is over. But banks are still just not that into you.

Doug Roberts is the chief investment strategist for Channel Capital Research. He says banks don't want to be tied down for 30 years to a mortgage.

Doug Roberts: They want something they can get out of pretty quickly.

So banks are feeling a little commitment-phobic.

Roberts: Yeah. I would say that's often referred to in marriage but it applies equally to banks.

Doug Duncan is the chief economist at Fannie Mae. He told me that banks are going to greater lengths to make sure you're good for the money you're trying to borrow.

Doug Duncan: You have to demonstrate an employment history, and a payment history, and good credit performance, with documentation that can be checked.

He laughed when I asked if they'll need my shoe size. But I may put it on a mortgage application, just in case.

In New York, I'm Heidi Moore for Marketplace.

About the author

Heidi N. Moore is The Guardian's U.S. finance and economics editor. She was formerly the New York bureau chief and Wall Street correspondent for Marketplace.
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