Banks, builders differ on need for more lending

Builders say things could get moving again if banks would start lending. Banks say they are lending to people who can repay the loans.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The economic downturn has stalled a housing market that used to rev at high speeds, but builders and bankers don't agree on the solution for getting the economy back into gear.

Builders and developers say things could get moving again if banks would start lending, allowing consumers to begin taking advantage of low interest rates to buy homes and cars.

Banks have become more cautious about lending after the housing bubble burst last year, sending the nation into an economic tailspin. Previously, money was easy to get for almost everybody, regardless of creditworthiness.

"We sort of went in the direction of looking at housing as an investment, almost like playing the stock market," said Tim Minton, executive director of the Home Builders Association of Raleigh-Wake County. "There would be a financial institution out there somewhere that would let you borrow the money, and those days are now gone."

When Congress approved a $700 billion bailout of the ailing financial system last fall, the government begged the banks to use the money for consumer loans to jump-start the sluggish economy.

Builders maintain that isn't happening, noting their businesses are suffering because few people can get a loan to buy a new home. On Thursday, they called for a bailout of their own industry, including tax breaks for buying a home and incentives to keep mortgage rates low.

"(Banks) have got to see that the risk is abating with the buyers beginning to buy homes," said Richard Gaylord, president of Richard Gaylord Homes in Raleigh and president of the North Carolina Home Builders Association.

Bankers say they are lending money to people and businesses that can repay the loans.

BB&T received $3.1 billion from the federal bailout, and Senior Vice President Bob Denham said more than half of that has been lent out already.

"There is still credit available to creditworthy borrowers," said Ed Aycock, senior vice president of the North Carolina Bankers Association, adding that credit is more restrictive than it was a year ago.

Mike Moore, chief financial officer of Raleigh-based Capital Bank, agreed that banks aren't hoarding bailout money.

"I think that there are some people who have financial difficulties who are going to have trouble being financed, but that's a very natural progression," Moore said.

Capital Bank received $41 million from the government, and Moore said it plans to hire 15 mortgage officers and set aside more than $20 million for people to buy high-end homes.

"We are lending that money to our existing customers, as well as reaching out to new customers," he said. "If you're a business person and you've managed your affairs and your business is working, you should be able to obtain financing for your business as well."