May 2nd, 2009 7:36 AM by Lehel Szucs
By Adrian Sainz
MIAMI — Money is already tight at The Wilshire Condominium, and new lending rules threaten to make life even more difficult for it and other condos around the country.
Arthur Barr, a board member of the Wilshire homeowners association, estimates 30 percent of the owners in the 378-unit building in North Miami Beach are behind on their fees. That makes it difficult to pay for things like elevator repairs and gardening.
Now, Fannie Mae — the biggest player in the mortgage market — wants to ensure that if it's backing a loan for a condominium, the building is in good shape. If the building is brand new, Fannie Mae wants to be certain there are enough owners to pay for maintenance and preserve the value of the property.
The new rules were designed to protect buyers and lenders, but they may make it harder for condo owners to sell. That could hobble the recovery of the condo market.
And in the end, critics say, the rules will mean cash-strapped associations like the Wilshire's won't be able to maintain the very buildings that Fannie Mae wants to preserve.
"I guess things can get much worse before they're going to get better," Barr said.
Under the new regulations, Fannie Mae will reject any mortgage for a condo buyer if more than 15 percent of the other owners are delinquent on their association fees. What's more, Fannie Mae will guarantee mortgages in new or newly converted condo developments only if 70 percent of the units are sold or under contract.
Critics say the rules, which went into effect this month, could force some new developments into bankruptcy because the 70 percent requirement will be hard to reach if buyers can't get a loan.
There's already more than a year's supply of condos for sale on the market, and about 93,000 new units are expected to be completed this year. That's a 28 percent jump from 2008, according to Reis, a real estate firm based in New York.
"By setting the higher threshold they've reduced their risk of making these loans, but they've also virtually killed the potential for many projects to be successful," said developer Jeff Spear, owner of The Spear Group in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "It's going to make it extremely difficult for this inventory to get absorbed."
Fannie Mae spokeswoman Amy Bonitatibus defended the company's new guidelines, saying it wants to reduce risk for lenders and protect buyers from condo fee increases or special assessments, company spokeswoman said.
But the bottom line is condo sales are likely to take another hit.
The rules are discouraging buyers like Jim Lyon, who wants to buy a new condo in Miami for about $250,000.
"I'm leery of making the commitment now to a condo," said Lyon, 55. "The restrictions are that much tighter now."