Good borrowers with one or two blemishes on their credit are being denied credit," said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors.
The denial rates tell only half the story. Many potential buyers aren't even applying for loans because they assume they can't get one.
"A lot of people know it's very difficult to get a mortgage and they're not even trying," said Alan Rosenbaum, CEO of GuardHill Financial, a New York-based mortgage broker.
That shows up in credit scores for loans financed with backing from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The average credit score has risen to 760 from 720 a few years ago. For FHA loans, the average score has gone to 700 from 660. Loans made to borrowers with sub-620 scores are almost nonexistent.
Another factor keeping people out of the mortgage market is that lenders now require much more up-front cash. The median down payment for purchase is about 15%. During the housing boom, it approached zero.
On most loans, banks want 20% down. On $200,000 purchases, that's $40,000, an insurmountable obstacle for many young house hunters. Or, in New York City, where the median home price is $800,000, buyers need $160,000 up front.
And what is the prospect for the future?
And it's about to get harder for buyers. Federal regulators proposed rules last week that are designed to discourage risky lending but that will also likely further restrict lending.
Banks would be required to keep 5% of some loans, specifically those with less than 20% down payments, on their books rather than selling them all off as securities. As a result, banks make be unlikely to issue loans where less than 20% is put down. So much for first-time buyers.
"We think the new rules are appalling," said the NAHB's Howard. "Only the wealthy will be able to buy homes at low interest cost."
It could also further erode consumer demand for homes.
"It's disturbing," said Lennox Scott, head of John LA. Scott Real estate in the Pacific Northwest. "We're just starting to feel healthier in inventory levels and prices and this is a potential headwind."Read it all