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FHA lending sets record statewide

Loans numbers rise locally, too

Local home buyers and owners got a healthy dose of help from Uncle Sam last year.

The number of Federal Housing Authority loans in Jackson County for 1999 rose 20 percent from the previous year, and the value of those loans rose 9 percent, according to FHA data released this week.

There were 660 loans valued at more than $54 million approved for Jackson County residents last year. That's up from 550 loans for $49.5 million the year before.

Statewide, FHA lending had a record year. The FHA made 10,808 loans for more than $1.039 billion. Of those, 6,688 — or 62 percent — went to first-time buyers, who borrowed a combined $788 million.

FHA officials and local home loan officers say the increase was likely tied to the exceptionally low interest rates available throughout much of last year. They note that the totals include both new purchases and refinancing.

Jim Nistler of Medford's National Funding Service, who specializes in FHA loans, says the refinancing market was particularly active. It has slowed markedly as rates rose modestly in recent months.

Of the 660 county loans, 388 went to first-time home buyers, who borrowed $38.5 million to get into houses.

FHA loans are a popular option for first-time buyers because less money is required to qualify for a loan. Down payments are lower and closing costs can either be paid entirely by the seller or financed into the loan.

The borrower can get in for almost nothing, says Mary Shields, branch manager of Medford's Mortgage Market office. The rates had been fairly stable (in 1999) and fairly good and (buyers) only need to come in with — percent down.

In most cases, the first-time home buyer doesn't have any choice, says Nistler, noting that the purpose of FHA loans is to help people who might otherwise have a difficult time securing financing.

The spike in FHA lending might also be tied to increased limits on how much can be borrowed, loan officers say. The upper limit was raised from $121,000 to $134,900.

In Josephine County, 146 FHA loans for $10.9 million were approved. Three-quarters of those went to first-time home buyers with a total value of $9.9 million.