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FHFA begins development of new REO pilot programs

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The Federal Housing Finance Agency said it has begun to develop new pilot programs to more efficiently unload foreclosed homes held by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The agency received more than 4,000 submissions to its request for information sent to the housing industry in August. Fannie Mae currently owns 122,616 properties, while Freddie holds 59,616 as of the end of the third quarter. "FHFA is proceeding prudently but with a sense of urgency to lay the groundwork for the development of good initial pilot transactions," the agency said in a response summary this week. No timeline for when a program would launch was given. The FHFA is also sharing the responses with other government agencies, including the Treasury Department and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Federal officials expected new ideas for how to rent out these properties and they were not disappointed. Most of the submissions, the FHFA said, involved renting these properties for different periods of time. Others even suggested that in some cases the homes should just be demolished if it is too expensive to rehabilitate the property and resell it. As for selling these properties in bulk, respondents stressed the need for the government to screen any partners it works with. Some provided recommendations for specific geographies, while others took a nationwide approach, the FHFA said. Based on some of the agency's language, it seems to be leaning toward developing new financing tools for those who want to buy these properties. "There is also broad agreement that 'seller financing' provided or guaranteed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or the government is likely important to execute large-scale transactions, at least in the early stages of a disposition program," the FHFA said. Financing for investment firms could also be available. Many of the respondents said only a few participants are capable of managing REO rental conversions, for example. If the FHFA assures these investors that a steady of flow of new properties would be available, most would begin building more capacity to do so. "Availability of attractive financing will encourage that investment," the FHFA said. "As more firms develop the capacity to participate, competition will increase, resulting in higher bids and reducing the need for financing assistance." Nonprofits and trade groups stressed the importance of documenting any partnership with an investor to make sure these neighborhoods are maintained and begin recovery after the REO is sold. Most want documentation to ensure investors with poor management histories do not have access to bulk transactions. Many respondents requested standards for evaluating if an investor has the ability to properly rehab and maintain any REO it buys from the GSEs. A group of 33 Senators sent a letter to top regulators in October asking for the FHFA to adopt new programs as quickly as possible to help alleviate the housing system overwhelmed with too much inventory. "Based on the input of responders, we understand the magnitude of the task at hand," the FHFA said Thursday. Write to Jon Prior. Follow him on Twitter @JonAPrior.

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