For many affordable housing lenders, 2012 was a banner year, fueled by a robust preservation and acquisition market. And the year only grew stronger as it progressed.

The fourth quarter is always the most hectic for multifamily financiers, as buyers rush to complete acquisitions before the year ends. But the momentum heading into 2013 is tempered by uncertainty and tight underwriting, according to panelists on the “Debt Financing Strategies” panel at the recent AHF Live conference.

“The mood is a combination of exhaustion and fear,” said Richard Gerwitz, managing director at Citi Community Capital.  “We have 140 transactions trying to close in the last three months of the year. But there’s a lot of fear of the low-income housing tax credit going away.”

Much of Citi’s agency business is attributable to the huge volume of year 15 deals coming down the pike. Both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have strong mod-rehab programs, and the Federal Housing Administration’s Sec. 223(f) program saw a lot of action in 2012. But the rehabs today are conservative affairs as lenders are averse to taking any lease-up risk if they can help it.

“Both GSEs have good mod-rehab programs, but the rehab really does need to be done tenant-in-place,” said Tom Booher, head of PNC Real Estate’s multifamily division. “It’s been a great tool for properties at the end of compliance period.”

For borrowers, the capital environment today is a mixed blessing. Interest rates are at historic lows, with many borrowers locking in long-term money in the 3.5 percent range. But a hangover from the Great Recession has caused lenders to remain maybe too vigilant.

“Underwriting is far more detailed, critical, and severe than at any time in my 30 years in this business,” said Rob Hoskins, chairman of developer The NuRock Cos. “You better be real sure about your revenue—they’re going to stress-test it because everyone still remembers the tremors we’ve been through the last 36 months.”