FHFA targets first bulk REO deals in early 2012

The federal government is still cautiously moving forward with a plan to offer previously foreclosed properties in bulk starting in early 2012, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

In August, federal agencies sent a request for information to the housing industry as it began to develop a new plan for managing the amount of homes repossessed during the foreclosure crisis.

As of the end of the third quarter, the Department of Housing and Urban Development held more than 40,000 homes repossessed through foreclosure, or REO. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac owned more than 180,000 REO properties at the end of the third quarter combined, according to their financial filings.

“FHFA is proceeding prudently but with a sense of urgency to lay the groundwork for the development of good initial transactions in early 2012,” in regards to agency REO, an FHFA spokesperson said in a statement to HousingWire Monday.

CNBC reported Monday that plans for pilot programs were imminent, but no agency could confirm any pending announcement.

FHFA Acting Director Edward DeMarco has long said any plan would be structured for local markets and would be implemented in cautious stages so as not to disrupt a very fragile housing sector.

In the fall of last year, Senators pressed the White House to move more swiftly. Within the last week, some on the Federal Reserve board of governors called for federal agencies to be more proactive on a still struggling housing market. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke suggested in a recent white paper that the government take a role in renting, or otherwise liquidating to a third party, many of these properties.

Some aren’t so taken with the idea. Analysts at Fitch Ratings said in a note Monday that such a program would face many operational challenges.

“A direct rental program could be an undertaking of some magnitude and cost for an REO holder due to the staffing and property management demands associated with large-scale property rental programs,” Fitch said. “While a third-party sales program could minimize these direct costs, an investor’s ability to secure financing and the lower bids for bulk REO present a different set of challenges.”

Nonetheless, if such a program is implemented appropriately, “we believe these recommendations could be a net positive for private-label RMBS because they would primarily reduce distressed housing inventory and some could lessen the downward pressure on prices,” wrote Fitch analyst Rob Rowan in a note to clients.

Write to Jon Prior.

Follow him on Twitter @JonAPrior.

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