September 19, 2014
Lauren Willis has posted Performance-Based Consumer Law to SSRN. This article
September 18, 2014
The Inspector General of the Federal Housing Finance Agency released an audit, FHFA’s Representation and Warranty Framework. Reps and warranties are a risk-shifting device that sophisticated commercial parties use in transactions. If a party makes a representation or warranty that turns out to be false, they other party may have some remedy — maybe the ability to return something or to get some kind of payment to make up for the failure to live up to the promise.
For instance, a lender may sell a bunch of mortgages to a securitizer and represent that all of the borrowers have FICO (credit) scores of 620 or higher. If it turns out that some of the borrowers had scores of less than 620, the securitizer may be able to make the lender buy back those mortgages pursuant to a rep and warranty clause. The IG undertook this audit because of recent changes to the reps and warranties framework for Fannie and Freddie. Before these changes were implemented,
the Enterprises’ risk management model primarily relied on reviewing loans for underwriting deficiencies after they defaulted as the representations and warranties were effective for the life of the loans. In contrast, the new framework transfers responsibility to the Enterprises to review loans upfront for eligible representation and warranty deficiencies that may trigger repurchase requests. If the Enterprises fail to do so within the applicable period, their ability to pursue a repurchase request expires if it is based upon a representation and warranty that qualifies for repurchase relief. (2)
The IG’s findings are disturbing. It “found that FHFA mandated a new framework despite significant unresolved operational risks to the Enterprises.” (3) It also found that
FHFA mandated a 36-month sunset period for representation and warranty relief without validating the Enterprises’ analysis or performing sufficient additional analysis to determine whether financial risks were appropriately balanced between the Enterprises and sellers. Freddie Mac, in contrast to Fannie Mae which provided analysis limited to a 36-month period, provided FHFA with the results of an internal analysis of loans that indicated loans with a 48-month clean payment history were significantly less likely to exhibit repurchaseable defects than loans with a 36-month clean payment history. Thus, losses to the Enterprise could be less with a longer sunset period. Therefore, FHFA cannot support that the sunset period selected does not unduly benefit sellers at the Enterprises’ expense. (3)
This is all very technical stuff, obviously. But it is of great significance. Basically, the IG is warning that the FHFA has not properly evaluated the credit risk posed by changes to the agreements that Fannie and Freddie enter into with the lenders who convey mortgages to them. It also implies that this new framework “unduly” benefits the lenders.
The FHFA’s response is unsettling — it effectively rejects the IG’s concern without providing a reasoned basis for doing so. Its express rationale for doing so is to avoid “adverse market effects” and because addressing the IG’s concern “may not align with the FHFA objective of increased lending to consumes . . ..” (32)
Whenever federal regulators place increased lending as a priority over safety and soundness, warning bells should start ringing. Crises at Fannie and Freddie (and the FHA, for that matter) begin with this kind of thinking. Increased lending may be important today, but it should not be done at the expense of safety and soundness tomorrow. We are too close to our last housing finance crisis to forget that lesson.
September 17, 2014
The Urban Institute published a study, National Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling Program Evaluation Final Report, Rounds 3 Through 5, that it prepared for NeighborWorks® America. The executive summary notes that
The National Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling (NFMC) program is a special federal appropriation, administered by NeighborWorks® America (NeighborWorks), designed to support a rapid expansion of foreclosure intervention counseling in response to the nationwide foreclosure crisis. The NFMC program seeks to help homeowners facing foreclosure by providing them with much-needed foreclosure prevention and loss mitigation counseling. The objective of the counseling services provided to clients is to determine the most appropriate solution, given a client’s circumstances and aid them in obtaining this solution. NeighborWorks distributes funds to competitively selected Grantee organizations, which in turn provide counseling, either directly or through Subgrantee organizations. (v)
The Urban Institute found that households counseled through NFMC were nearly 3 times more likely to have received a loan modification than non-counseled households. The authors estimate that “nearly two-thirds of the 151,000 loan modifications that NFMC clients received after entry into counseling would not have happened at all without the assistance of their counselor.” (vii)
On the one hand, these are very significant results and seem to validate this approach to foreclosure mitigation counseling. On the other hand, there is a lot of literature that calls into question the efficacy of various forms of financial counseling. It is important that this study be peer reviewed to ensure that its methods and conclusions are valid. If it holds up, it is equally important that we determine why this approach is so much more effective than many others.
September 15, 2014
The Federal Housing Finance Agency issued a proposed rule that would establish housing goals for Fannie and Freddie for the next three years. The Federal Housing Enterprises Financial Safety and Soundness Act of 1992 required that Fannie and Freddie’s regulator set annual housing goals to ensure that a certain proportion of the companies’ mortgage purchases serve low-income households and underserved areas. Among other things, the proposed rule would “establish a new housing subgoal for small multifamily properties affordable to low-income families,” a subject that happens to be near and dear to my heart.(54482)
This “duty to serve” is very controversial, at the heart of the debate over housing finance reform. Many Democrats oppose housing finance reform without it and many Republicans oppose reform with it. Indeed, it was one of the issues that stopped the Johnson-Crapo reform bill dead in its tracks.
While this proposed rule is not momentous by any stretch of the imagination, it is worth noting that the FHFA, for all intents and purposes, seems to be the only party in the Capital that is moving housing finance reform forward in any way.
Once again, we should note that doing nothing is not the same as leaving everything the same. As Congress fails to strike an agreement on reform and Fannie and Freddie continue to limp along in their conservatorships, regulators and market participants will, by default, be designing the housing finance system of the 21st century. That is not how it should be done.
Comments are due by October 28, 2014.
September 12, 2014
Inside MBS and ABS, the trade journal, quoted me in DeMarco Cites ‘Structural Improvements’ in Housing Six Years After GSE Conservatorship, More Needed (behind a paywall). It reads,
Six years after the government takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the former regulator of the government-sponsored enterprises noted that the housing finance system has made “significant progress.” But even as critical structural changes are underway, comprehensive improvement is still several years out.
In a policy paper issued last week, Edward DeMarco–new senior fellow-in-residence for the Milken Institute’s Center for Financial Markets–said that house prices, as measured by the Federal Housing Finance Agency, have recovered more than 50 percent since their decline in 2007.
“While the damage from the housing crisis has been substantial, we are finally seeing a sustained market recovery,” said the former FHFA chief. “The crisis showed that numerous structural improvements were needed in housing–and such improvements have been underway for several years.”
Poor data, misuse of specialty mortgage products, lagging technologies, weak servicing standards and an inadequate securitization infrastructure became evident during the crisis.
“New data standards have emerged…with more on the way,” wrote DeMarco. “These standards should improve risk management while lowering origination costs and barriers to entry.” Development of the new securitization structure, begun more than two years ago, “should be a cornerstone for the future secondary mortgage market,” he added.
DeMarco said the major housing finance reform bills in the House and Senate share key similarities: “winding down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, building a common securitization infrastructure and drawing private capital back into the marketplace while reducing taxpayer involvement.”
DeMarco added, “We should build on these similarities, making them the cornerstone features of final legislation.” Prolonging the GSEs’ conservatorship, he warned, “will continue to distort the market and place taxpayers at risk.”
David Reiss, research director of the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at the Brooklyn Law School, lauded the common securitization project. But Reiss worried the former FHFA head is too optimistic about the state of Fannie and Freddie.
“The GSEs have been in a state of limbo for far too long,” said Reiss. “All sorts of operational risks may be cropping up in the entities as employees sit around or walk out the door waiting for Congress to act.”
September 11, 2014
Law360 quoted me in NYC’s $1M Parking Spot Shows Appetite For Luxury (behind a paywall).It opens,
Atlas Capital Group LLC caused a buzz Wednesday with its listing of a parking space in a condominium building in SoHo for $1 million, more per square foot than the homes above it, but experts say in the context of a burgeoning luxury market such a price may just be the beginning.
That price for a 99-year license that allows the condominium resident to use the parking space — even one in its own condominium unit and tax lot — may sound wild, but experts say much of the attention this property has gotten may be a bit overblown, especially considering the level to which many are willing to go for comfort and convenience in New York City.
“It’s not really about $1 million for a parking space,” said Bruce Bronster of Windels Marx Lane & Mittendorf LLP. “If you were just going to condo a parking space, you couldn’t get $1 million for it. It has to do with having an amenity on a very expensive apartment.”
There aren’t many places to park in SoHo, making a convenient parking spot a hot commodity, but experts say the bigger message is that New York City’s luxury residential market is hotter than ever, creating new opportunities for developers to differentiate themselves with the right amenities.
The development is at 42 Crosby Street, near Broome Street, where Atlas Capital Group is turning what used to be a parking lot itself into a condominium building with three-bedroom units ranging from $8.7 million to $10.45 million, according to information gathered by The New York Times.
The eye-popping element comes when one looks at the price per square foot. Some of the parking spots — there are actually 10 being built under the condominiums — are expected to be up to 200 square feet, but they will reportedly all cost between $5,000 and $6,666 per square foot. The condominiums, on the other hand, are only going for about $3,150 per square foot.
But experts say this isn’t too surprising, considering the demand for luxury housing and amenities that has skyrocketed in recent years.
Prices for luxury residential properties have risen to pre-recession levels and surpassed them in some cases, with a few record-breaking penthouse deals passing the $90 million mark thanks to flush foreign investors.
More than anything, experts say, the $1 million parking spots are a way for Atlas Capital Group to distinguish 42 Crosby from other apartment buildings and draw in those investors willing to pay top dollar.
“The million-dollar spots do highlight how developers have seriously monetized amenity spaces,” said David Reiss, a real estate professor at Brooklyn Law School. “In all likelihood, the prices for amenities like parking spaces will follow the same trend line as those for the apartments to which they are attached.”
And it’s not just parking spaces; Reiss said he has seen similar setups with amenities such as storage facilities and rooftop cabanas commanding top dollar.