Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

April 26, 2017

Comparison Shopping Savings in Mortgage Market

By David Reiss

Alexei Alexandrov and Sergei Koulayev of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have posted a working paper, No Shopping in the U.S. Mortgage Market: Direct and Strategic Effects of Providing Information to SSRN. The paper is the first to answer the question, “How much do consumers lose by not shopping enough for mortgages?” (5) They find that “for the average consumer, the the difference between the actual and the lowest offered rate amounted to an extra $300 per year.” (Id.)

The abstract reads,

We document and analyze price dispersion in the U.S. mortgage market. We find significant price dispersion in posted prices in the retail channel: for example, a consumer with a prime credit score and with a 20% down payment might see a spread in interest rates of 50 basis points, controlling for all relevant consumer/property characteristics, including discount points. We also show, from survey evidence, that close to half of consumers did not shop before taking out a mortgage, and worse, many consumers do not seem to realize that there is price dispersion. Using a proprietary dataset of lenders’ ratesheets, we estimate an equilibrium model of costly search where a share of consumers holds incorrect beliefs regarding price dispersion. Whereas high search costs is one reason behind the lack of search, we show that non-price preferences also play an important role in preventing consumers from searching more; and so an effective policy would target both. In one of our counterfactuals, we show that eliminating non-price preferences results in savings of about $9 billion dollars a year.

In addition to its significant finding on a new topic (one that should have policy implications for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau), the paper also demonstrates the value of government research on the mortgage markets.

The paper relies on data from the National Survey of Mortgage Originations. The NSMO is a survey designed by the CFPB and the Federal Housing Finance Agency.  It is sent out on a quarterly basis to a nationally representative sample of recent mortgage borrowers. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), the Chair of the House Financial Services Committee, has introduced legislation to stop the CFPB from conducting research on the mortgage markets. That would be a bad result for consumers.

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