"This week is going to be a nightmare," says Melissa Cohn, chief executive of Manhattan Mortgage in New York. Lenders are scaling back so fast that it isn't clear which loans are available or on what terms, and rates are jumping even on large loans, known as jumbos, for prime borrowers.
These stricter lending standards reduce demand for homes and nudge some people who can't refinance toward foreclosure. Higher foreclosures add to a glut of homes on the market in most of the country. And, completing the vicious circle, a weaker housing market comes back to bite the lenders by wiping out owners' equity in their homes and increasing the risk of even more foreclosures down the road.
"The market is in a panic," says Larry Goldstone, president of Thornburg Mortgage Inc., a lender in Santa Fe, N.M. He says he thinks the mortgage-bond market, which supplies most of the money for home mortgages, will calm down within a few months, but the housing market may need at least another year or two to heal.