Coronavirus Watch: Is a Mortgage Holiday Coming to America?

Written by Jaymi Naciri Posted On Wednesday, 18 March 2020 05:30

While American homeowners scramble to take advantage of some of the lowest mortgage rates in history related to the global coronavirus outbreak, Italians are quarantining at home and getting some much-needed mortgage relief. 

“Mortgage payments will be suspended across Italy as the Italian government places the population on lockdown because of the coronavirus outbreak,” said Business Insider. “The Italian government has placed Italy's more than 60 million people under lockdown, extending emergency measures initially imposed only on northern regions as it struggled to stop the coronavirus from spreading.”

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told everyone to "stay at home" and has banned public gatherings including sporting matches and weddings. In addition, most public spaces, save for grocery stores and pharmacies, are closed for the foreseeable future. 

What’s happening stateside?

Refinancing here is in the midst of a major boom. “Applications to refinance a home loan jumped 79% last week compared with the previous week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association,” said CNBC. “Applications for home purchase loans were up just 6% for the week.”

Home buyers and sellers aren’t entirely sitting on the sidelines. Home searches have dropped in many places across the country, and certainly in-person tours and showings are way down as Americans adjust to a temporary new normal. “In a quick survey, 16% of Realtors reported seeing a drop in buyer interest related to the coronavirus and 1 in 4 sellers are changing how they market their homes, some going entirely online, according to the National Association of Realtors,” said CNBC. “Just 3% of Realtors said they had clients remove their homes from the market due to the coronavirus. As with everything in real estate, reaction is local, with some markets not seeing as much of an effect. Higher-priced housing markets are likely to see more of an effect, as buyers are more influenced by moves in the stock market.”

And, in fact, this might end up being a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for savvy real estate buyers. “Economists say that low mortgage rates could soften the impact on sales this spring. “Although most people think of recessions with dread, it is worth keeping in mind that they can also be periods of opportunity, especially if you are prepared,” George Ratiu, a senior economist at®, said in REALTOR Magazine. “As the last recession demonstrated, while asset markets declined, many prepared buyers found treasures, often in low-priced homes.”

But the big real estate-related question for many homeowners here is whether a mortgage holiday may also be coming. 

“The short answer is: probably not,” said HousingWire. “Most American mortgages are packaged into bonds with legal terms that dictate what the servicers who handle the billing can and can’t do. There are ways servicers can offer forbearance—an agreement to let borrowers either pay at a lower interest rate or suspend payments temporarily because of a hardship. But it’s on a case-by-case basis.”

“Somebody owns those bonds,” Mark Vitner, a senior economist with Wells Fargo, told them. “Who is going to make those interest payments?” 

That likely won’t stop distressed homeowners from trying, especially if widespread quarantines become a reality in the U.S. “Some of America's largest mortgage lenders are urging their borrowers to get in touch as soon as possible if they making home loan payments becomes difficult because of the coronavirus health emergency,” said Newsweek. “While none of the institutions who were approached by Newsweek and responded had a specific policy related to coronavirus, they do have existing procedures for dealing with forbearance due to illness or loss of income.”

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