Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

January 6, 2014

A New History of Mortgage Banking — Part Two!

By David Reiss

I know, I know, you can’t get enough of this stuff. Yesterday, I noted a couple of highlights from Mortgage Banking in the United States 1870-1940. The last part of the report carefully documents how various players in the urban mortgage market saw their market and their market shares change dramatically as a result, in large part, of the new federal housing finance regime introduced in the 1930s:

All that was required for a historic surge in homebuilding and homeownership was a housing finance system. Local institutional portfolio lenders, now buttressed by deposit insurance and, in the case of S&Ls, the FHLB’s lending facilities, took up most of the business. But the inter-regional flow of credit that arbitraged imbalances across local markets was dominated by life insurance companies and their mortgage banking correspondents. Through 1952, most of these loans were insured under the FHA program, and for good reason — that program had worked well for these intermediaries in the late 1930s. The federally insured and guaranteed home mortgage loan business for life insurance companies and, later in the decade, mutual savings banks preoccupied mortgage bankers until the unusual conditions that fostered the expansion finally ran out in the 1960s. (2)

All of this historical detail brings home a key point for us today. The technical choices we make in structuring the federal housing finance system will alter the incentives of all of the current players. As we watch to see how the Qualified Mortgage, Qualified Residential Mortgage and Ability-to-Repay rules play out when they go into effect next year, we should know that they are likely to shape the mortgage market for decades to come. We already know that some mortgage products will be common and some rare because of these rules. But we should also be aware that some types of originators will be winners and some will be losers because of these rules, although it is too early (at least for me) to tell which will be which. And such an impact may shape the nature mortgage market as much as the types of products that eventually win out when the rules are fully understood by the industry.

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