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Winter can be a surprisingly advantageous time to list, shop, negotiate and buy a house.

If you’re thinking about taking out a new home equity line, you’re hardly alone. Credit lines tied to home equity – popularly known as HELOCs – are one of the fastest-growing segments in the mortgage market. Volume during the first half of 2014 is up by an extraordinary 21 percent compared with the same period last year, according to data collected by credit bureau Equifax.

Last week the Federal Housing Administration, whose reverse mortgage program dominates the field, adopted guidelines tightening eligibility standards as part of an effort to avoid additional losses to government insurance funds.

The rapid growth in equity has been powered partly by post-recession gains in home-selling prices. Total homeowner mortgage debt outstanding has fallen steadily, and it is well below what it was in 2009.

Ed Fine’s recent rejection for a refinancing of his home loan wasn’t exactly like former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s. But there are enough similarities to raise questions about current tight mortgage market standards and how lenders scrutinize applicants’ incomes.

Thanks to strict federal rule changes in the wake of the housing bust, it can be tough to qualify for a loan.

Are Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac needlessly preventing millions of African-Americans, Latinos and young consumers from qualifying for a loan because they don’t have a FICO credit score? Some critics say yes.

Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., would amend the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act to require the national credit bureaus to delete most negative information within four years. But not everyone thinks this is a good idea.

Thanks to a policy switch made final last week, charging extra interest payments on loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration will soon be banned.

What nobody mentioned about the score, dubbed FICO Score 9, is that most homebuyers aren’t likely to see any direct benefit from it anytime soon, very possibly not for years.

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Kenneth Harney
Kenneth Harney, who lives in Washington, D.C., writes an award-winning column on housing and real estate.