for_sale_signsNASHVILLE, Tenn. – Frank Nothaft, the chief economist of Freddie Mac, said yesterday that, despite the fact that a third of all housing sales are foreclosures, the market is nearing a bottom. Speaking at a conference in Nashville, he tempered that rather optimistic claim with the reminder that delinquency risks remain, with unemployment a major contributor to homeowners ending up delinquent and threatened with foreclosure.

Nothaft also said that Federal Housing Administration lending has risen sharply, with FHA loans accounting the largest share of the U.S. housing market since 1942, and mortgage rates at a 50-year low.

The Los Angeles Times noted yesterday, however, that, while housing prices and mortgage rates are historically low, new mortgage industry underwriting and appraisal changes are “putting new hurdles in the way of borrowers and loan officers.”

Fees are being raised for loans purchased after April 1, some lenders are raising minimum FICO scores, cost-raising appraisal rules are being changed (for the worse) and, beginning May 1, Fannie and Freddie will refuse to fund loans with appraisals that do not follow a set of new rules known as the Home Valuation Code of Conduct.

“Among the procedural changes: Mortgage brokers no longer can order appraisals directly, but instead must allow lenders or investors to use third-party “appraisal management companies” to assign the job to appraisers in their networks,” says the Times.

The changes may not be in effect, but they are already getting bad reviews. Jeff Lipes, president of Connecticut-based Family Choice Mortgage Corp., told the Times that their net effect will be to “squeeze some people who are creditworthy by any reasonable standard out of the market.”