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Jumbo Mortgage Loans Are Back on the Table

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By Mary Ellen Podmolik

Even during the downturn, lenders continued to make some jumbo loans to their very best clients — those with stellar financial pedigrees that included high credit scores, high cash reserves and sizable down payments, sometimes of more than 30 percent of the purchase price. The loans were held on the lender’s own books.

What’s different today is that demand for big loans is on the rise, and lenders are eagerly stepping in at a time of recovering home prices and improved economic reports. Jumbo loan volume still pales in comparison with the market’s headier days, but there are also successful efforts to bundle and sell jumbo mortgage securities to private investors.

Jumbo loan originations totaled $203 billion last year. If the first-quarter pace of $54 billion continues, $216 billion of jumbo loans could be written this year, according to Inside Mortgage Finance, a trade publication. About 7 percent of that first-quarter volume was bundled and sold to private investors on the secondary market.

“The jumbo market we have now was created in 2009 after the crash and is very conservatively underwritten,” said Guy Cecala, CEO and publisher of Inside Mortgage Finance. “The good news for jumbo borrowers is in terms of underwriting or choice, the market is the best it’s been in the past five years.”

Higher fees charged by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are shrinking the interest rate spread between conforming and jumbo loans, as is competition by lenders to woo high-net-worth customers. At the end of June, for example, the average interest rate for a 30-year, fixed-rate jumbo mortgage was only 0.17 percentage point higher than a conventional loan, compared with a 0.5 percentage point difference a year earlier, according to financial publisher HSH.com.

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