WASHINGTON — Current and former military personnel will be able to buy more expensive homes this year, thanks to changes in limits placed on no-down- payment loans offered through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Guidelines approved by Congress in November have upped the maximum amount veterans can borrow for home loans to $359,700, nearly 50 percent more than last year’s $240,000 loan ceiling.

Keith Pedigo, director of the department’s loan guaranty service, said officials had been pushing for the change because of the rising price of homes in major metropolitan areas such as San Diego, Washington and New York.

“The $240,000, while it was sufficient in most areas, wasn’t nearly enough in some of those high- cost areas,” he said. “Now our veterans will always be on par with other, conventional loans. It makes them very competitive in the market.”

VA-guaranteed home loans are available to most veterans and servicemembers, including reservists. The program allows the department to provide a financial guarantee to lenders on the military buyers’ behalf, which in turn allows the mortgage company to offer lower interest rates on the loan even without a down payment.

In the past, Congress revisited the loan ceilings periodically to adjust for housing price increases, Pedigo said. But the latest change allows the program to increase the loan amount automatically based on the current conventional loan limits set by federal loan backers.

That figure readjusts annually, Pedigo said, and takes into account regional spikes in housing prices. He expects the larger loan amount will let many servicemembers purchase new homes they previously could not afford.

“It’s too soon for the word to have gotten out about the changes, so we haven’t seen an increase in loans yet,” Pedigo said. “But I think that will start happening in the coming weeks, especially in the major metropolitan areas where we’ve seen prices increase the most.”

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