Federal agency supports more condo mortgages

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WASHINGTON (AP) The Federal Housing Administration is changing regulations to make it easier for more first-time condo buyers to receive mortgages.

The federal agency released new guidelines Wednesday for the types of mortgages it will insure at condominiums. Just 6.5% of the 150,000 condominium developments in the United States were previously eligible for FHA-backed mortgages. But the FHA will start backing mortgages for individual units and will have greater flexibility to react to changes in market conditions.

Brian Montgomery, the FHA commissioner and acting deputy secretary of the Housing and Urban Development Department, said the changes would make it easier for first-time buyers, retirees and minorities to become homeowners. Unlike conventional mortgages that require 20% down, the FHA backs loans that require 3.5% down payments.

As regulations tightened after the housing crash, the number of FHA mortgages for condos fell from 72,900 in 2010 to 16,200 last year. The rule change is expected to increase the number of FHA mortgages for condos by 20,000 to 60,000 units.

Wider availability of mortgages could increase construction by 7,000 condos, according to an analysis last year by HUD.

It's unclear just how much the expansion could increase the U.S. home ownership rate, as prices have risen faster than incomes and the inventory of homes on the market have been below historical averages.

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