Lenders are showing signs of loosening up when it comes to home buyers seeking a mortgage. The Mortgage Bankers Association's Mortgage Credit Availability Index ticked up slight in April, following an increase the previous month too. Increases in the index are indicative of an overall loosening of credit.

Opening the Credit Box

3% Down Payments May Be Game Changer

Smaller Down Payments Lure More Buyers

FHA Lowers Its Mortgage Costs

MBA's index shows that mortgage credit availability has increased consistently over the last several months, coinciding with recent announcements from the federal government of programs that have been designed to open the credit box. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's move to back 3 percent down payment loans as well as the Federal Housing Administration’s action to reduce its mortgage insurance premiums have helped ease credit, MBA Chief Mike Fratantoni says.

Other government offerings also helped to ease credit even more in the latest report, reflecting April data, MBA notes.

"Mortgage credit availability increased on net in April," Fratantoni says. "The increase was driven by new offerings of FHA's 203K home improvement program, new VA offerings, and new jumbo products. The increase was partially offset by some investors tightening underwriting criteria on conventional cash out offerings."

REALTORS® surveyed have pinpointed tight credit conditions, significant lender overlays, and loan processing delay as a major hurdle facing their buyers the past few years, but REALTORS® are also reporting gradual improvements, according to the latest REALTORS® Confidence Index, a survey of real estate professionals.

REALTORS® point to the trend of lenders showing more willingness to accept slightly lower FICO scores – moving from the high range of 740-plus to now the mid-range of 620-740. Also, REALTORS® note an increase in the number of their clients securing a loan while making zero to 6 percent down payments. FHA's reduction in the mortgage insurance premium and the GSE-backed 3 percent down payment loans are helping buyers to come with less money to the table.

But while mortgage credit availability is showing definite signs of easing, credit continues to still be far less available than it was during the housing boom days, according to MBA.

Source: "MBA: It Keeps Getting Easier to Get a Mortgage," HousingWire (May 12, 2015) and "REALTORS® Confidence Index," National Association of REALTORS® (April 2015)