REFinBlog

Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

December 5, 2016

Mnuchin and Housing Finance Reform

By David Reiss

photo by MohitSingh

Sabri Ben-Achour of Marketplace interviewed me in Choice of Mnuchin Troubles Housing Activists. (The audio is available at the link at the top of the linked page.)  The summary of the story reads as follows:

Donald Trump has tapped financier, Hollywood producer and hedge fund manager Steven Mnuchin as Treasury Secretary. In that role, Mnuchin would have quite a lot to say about housing, finance and policies related to mortgage lending. Mnuchin has been involved in lending before, and it didn’t go well for many homeowners.

At issue specifically is his an investment in a failing mortgage lender in 2009 called IndyMac in California. Mnuchin and other investors renamed it OneWest, and it proceeded to foreclose on tens of thousands of homes nationwide. Critics say the company could have kept some portion of those people in their homes.

The story reads in part,

“I think the really big place where the Treasury Secretary can have an impact is on housing finance reform and, really, what we should do with Fannie and Freddie.”  David Reiss is a Professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School.

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December 5, 2016 | Permalink | No Comments

Monday’s Adjudication Roundup

By Jamila Moore

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December 5, 2016 | Permalink | No Comments

December 2, 2016

All About Mortgage Brokers

By David Reiss

photo by Day Donaldson

Bankrate.com quoted me in Mortgage Broker — Everything You Need To Know. It opens,

When you need a mortgage to buy or refinance a home, there are 3 main ways to go about applying — through a traditional brick-and-mortar bank, an online lender or a mortgage broker (either in-person or online).

Many people first think about shopping for a mortgage where they already have their checking and savings accounts, which is often a major bank or a local credit union. And applying online with a traditional bank or online-only lender has become more common.

But while borrowers are probably the least familiar with using a mortgage broker, it comes with many benefits.

Here’s everything you need to know about using a mortgage broker. 

Working with a mortgage broker

A mortgage broker connects a borrower with a lender. While that makes them middlemen, there are several reasons why you should consider working with a broker instead of going straight to a lender.

For starters, brokers can shop dozens of lenders to get you the best pricing, says Casey Fleming, author of “The Loan Guide: How to Get the Best Possible Mortgage” and mortgage advisor with C2 Financial Corp. in San Jose, California.

Fleming says the price he charges for certain lenders or banks is very often better than the price a consumer could get by going directly to the same lender.

“When the lender outsources the loan origination and sales function to a broker, they offer to pay us what they would otherwise pay to cover their internal operations for the same function,” Fleming says.

“If we are willing to work for less than that—and that is usually the case—then the consumer’s price through a broker ends up being less than if they went directly to the lender,” he explains.

Further, “A broker is legally required to disclose his compensation in writing — a banker is not,”says Joe Parsons, senior loan officer with PFS Funding in Dublin, California, and author of the “Mortgage Insider blog.”

Variety is another benefit of brokers. It can help you find the right lender.

“Some may specialize in particular property types that others avoid. Some may have more flexibility with credit scores or down payment amounts than others,” says David Reiss, a law professor who specializes in real estate and consumer financial services at Brooklyn Law School in New York and the editor of REFinBlog.com.

In addition, brokers offer one-stop shopping, saving borrowers time and headaches.

“If you are turned down by a bank, you’re done — you have to walk away and begin again,” Fleming says. But “If you are turned down by one lender through a broker, the broker can take your file to another lender,” he adds. The borrower doesn’t need to do any extra work.

A broker’s expertise and relationships can also simplify the process of getting a loan.

Brokers have access to private lenders who can meet with you and assess whether or not you have the collateral, says Mike Arman, a retired longtime mortgage broker in Oak Hill, Florida.

Private lenders, which include nonbank mortgage companies and individuals, can make loans to borrowers in unconventional situations that banks can’t or won’t because of Dodd-Frank regulations or internal policy.

You may get a better price on a loan from a broker as well.

Under the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Loan Originator Compensation rule, brokers (but not bank lenders) must charge the same percentage on every deal, so they can’t raise their margin “just because” like a bank can, Fleming explains.

“The intent was to prevent originators from steering borrowers to high-cost loans in order to increase their commission,” Fleming notes.

You should also know that working with a broker won’t make your loan more expensive.

“The lender pays us, just like a cruise line pays a travel agent,” Fleming says.

Working with a traditional bank lender

Banks issue less than half of mortgages these days, according to the industry publication Inside Mortgage Finance. But working with a broker isn’t necessarily a slam dunk.

“A broker may claim that he offers more choices than a banker because he works with many lenders,” Parsons says. “In reality, most lenders offer pricing on their loans that is very similar.” Although, he notes, a broker may have available some niche lenders for unusual circumstances.

Reiss says that even if you’re working with a mortgage broker, it can be worthwhile to check out lenders on your own since no broker can work with every lender — there are simply too many. He suggests starting with lenders you already have a relationship with, but also looking at ads and reaching out directly to big banks, small banks and credit unions in your community.

It’s important to know your range of options, he notes.

For the same reason, you might want to shop around with a few different brokers.

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December 2, 2016 | Permalink | No Comments

Friday’s Government Reports Roundup

By Robert Engelke

  • The employment report showed solid gains in December despite the narrowing supply of workers in the labor market. Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 178,000 from last month, while the unemployment rate decreased to 4.6%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
  • With just a few words uttered Wednesday during an interview on Fox Business, Steve Mnuchin, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to lead the Department of the Treasury, sent the stocks of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac soaring to heights not seen since June 2014.
  • This paper, titled Cross-Sectional Patterns of Mortgage Debt During the Housing Boom: Evidence and Implications, addresses the reallocation of mortgage debt to low-income or marginally qualified borrowers plays a central role in many explanations of the early 2000s housing boom. It shows that such a reallocation never occurred, as the distribution of mortgage debt with respect to income changed little even as the aggregate stock of debt grew rapidly.
  • This paper, titled Temporary Loan Limits As a Natural Experiment in Federal Housing Administration Insurance, addresses how The Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 dramatically but temporarily increased the mortgage loan amount eligible for insurance through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). The authors use the implementation and expiration of these loan limits as a source of exogenous variation in the availability of FHA insurance to measure the impact on the overall mortgage market and conventional lending.

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December 2, 2016 | Permalink | No Comments

December 1, 2016

Preparing for Surprise Closing Costs

By David Reiss

photo by Chris Potter

The Wall Street Journal quoted me in Buying a Home? Prepare for Surprise Closing Costs. It opens,

Note to house hunters on a budget: A home’s sale price isn’t really the sale price—there are lots of closing costs and expenses that jack up the final number.

According to online real-estate listings site Zillow, buyers typically pay between 2% and 5% of the purchase price in closing costs. So if a home costs $300,000, that buyer can expect to pay between $6,000 and $15,000. Since the financial crisis, there’s more transparency on the part of lenders when disclosing the costs associated with a mortgage, so buyers know in advance how much they’ll need for the closing. But experts say that might not be enough.

Lender fees are only one part of the total cost of homeownership. Buyers must also pay appraisers, home inspectors and settlement agents, as well as the cost of title insurance, homeowners insurance and property taxes. And the fees don’t stop at the closing. Utilities, regular home maintenance and unexpected repairs add up as well—and can derail even the most experienced buyer.

*     *    *

Here are a few considerations to help you avoid surprises at the closing table.

Stash your cash. There is no real rule of thumb as to how much money buyers should put aside in addition to the balance of the purchase price and closing costs. But the more, the better. “You definitely want an emergency fund,” says David Reiss, a Brooklyn Law School professor who specializes in real estate. “Appliances have a habit of breaking right after you buy a house.”

Close on the last day of the month, or just before. One of the fees due at closing is prepaid interest, the daily interest charge accruing between the closing and the day on which your first mortgage payment is due. Closing on the last day of the month reduces this upfront cost.

Get an estoppel letter from the association. Your real-estate agent or attorney may obtain this letter, which lists the maintenance fee, when it’s due, any required escrows or membership fees and whether a special assessment has been levied. Review this letter carefully, and compare it with the purchase contract to make sure all fees are apportioned accurately between buyer and seller.

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December 1, 2016 | Permalink | No Comments

Thursday’s Advocacy & Think Tank Roundup

By Robert Engelke

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December 1, 2016 | Permalink | No Comments

November 30, 2016

Credit Reporting Complaints

By David Reiss

photo by Erin Stevenson O'Connor

The Huffington Post quoted me in The Real Reason Everyone Complains About Credit Reporting Agencies. It opens,

The most complained-about financial institutions aren’t banks or credit card companies. They’re credit reporting agencies — and by a wide margin.

In fact, the big three credit agencies topped the latest Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) monthly report. Equifax attracted an average of 1,470 complaints during a three-month period from May to July. Experian took second place with 1,272 complaints, and TransUnion had 1,202 complaints. As a category, all of the credit reporting agencies are up by about 30 percent from the same period a year ago.

By comparison, the most complained about bank, Citibank, had only an average of 922 complaints during the same period.

So why all the gripes? To answer that question, you have to take a closer look at a society that’s heavily dependent on credit and at the companies that determine how much credit each member of society gets. But the answer also reveals a broken system and a few workarounds that could help you avoid becoming another statistic.

The CFPB did not respond to a request for a comment about its complaint data. Neither did two credit reporting agencies, Experian and TransUnion. Equifax deferred to the Consumer Data Industry Association (CDIA), the trade association for the credit reporting industry.

Decoding the numbers

A CDIA representative suggested the government’s complaint numbers are inflated because they fail to distinguish between complaints and “innocuous” disputes.

“For example, consumers who are reviewing their credit reports for the first time might question an item they don’t recognize or understand and then lodge a complaint,” says Bill Mashek, the CDIA spokesman. “A consumer might also lodge a complaint against one of the credit reporting agencies when their issue is actually with another entity such as a lender.”

The credit agencies also say the government fails to verify any of the complaints; it simply reports them. And it has no way of weeding out potential errors, such as when consumers question an item they don’t recognize or understand on their credit report.

Consumers have a different perspective. They’re people like Peter Hoagland, a consultant from Warrenton, Va., whose homeowner insurance bill rose unexpectedly this year. He hadn’t made any claims, but soon discovered the reason: His credit rating insurance score taken a hit. He contacted his credit reporting agency. ” I could find no one to give me a credible explanation,” he says.

Hoagland contacted his insurance company and explained the problem, but the company stuck with its rate increase anyway.

“It feels to me that insurance companies are using these ratings as contrived reasons to raise rates,” he says. “They can’t cite claims I have made or increased risk with my home. So they hide behind these dubious insurance score ratings as justification to raise rates.”

It’s complicated

David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School
, says stories like Hoagland’s are common because credit scores affect almost everyone. They’re also difficult to explain.

“The credit reporting agencies have a big impact on whether someone can get a mortgage to buy a house as well as on setting the interest rate that they will ultimately pay,” he says. “At the same time, they often act in mysterious ways in terms of what they include and do not include on their reports.”

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November 30, 2016 | Permalink | No Comments