WASHINGTON - Fannie Mae, the big mortgage lender, is doing away with higher minimum-down-payment requirements for borrowers in parts of the country where home prices are dropping.

The government-sponsored mortgage-finance company said yesterday that it would require minimum down payments of 3 to 5 percent for all home loans that it guaranteed. That replaces a December policy requiring a higher minimum percentage if the loan were for a home in a zip code with declining real estate prices.

The Washington company said the change was part of its effort to help resuscitate the flagging mortgage market.

Fannie Mae and its smaller sibling, Freddie Mac, had been under intense pressure to relax lending policies that had been tightened in recent months as foreclosures and defaults skyrocketed.

Richard Gaylord, president of the National Association of Realtors, said in an April letter to Fannie Mae that because the health of a housing market could differ widely, even within a given zip code, neighborhoods with healthy housing markets often were stigmatized.

Gaylord applauded yesterday's decision. "These new policies will help stabilize the credit markets, which will help encourage buyers to come back into the housing market," he said in a statement.

The announcement came as Congress neared a bipartisan agreement on a housing bill that could bring stricter regulation for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Senators are considering tapping a fund drawn from the two companies' profits to pay for a new foreclosure-prevention program.

Congress created Fannie and Freddie to pump money into the home-mortgage market by buying home loans from banks and other lenders and bundling them into securities for sale on Wall Street. Together they hold or guarantee about $5.1 trillion in home-mortgage debt.

Fannie Mae shares fell 34 cents to $29.89 yesterday on the New York Stock Exchange. Freddie Mac fell 30 cents to $26.97.