Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

September 24, 2015

Mortgage Market, Hiding in Plain Sight

By David Reiss

David Jackmanson

I blogged about the Center for Responsible Lending’s take on the 2014 Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) data yesterday.  The mere act of aggregating this data reveals so much about the state of the mortgage market. Today I am digging into it a bit on my own.

There is a lot of good stuff in the analysis of the HMDA data released by the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC). I found the discussion of the effects of the Qualified Mortgage and Ability to Repay rules most interesting:

The HMDA data provide little indication that the new ATR and QM rules significantly curtailed mortgage credit availability in 2014 relative to 2013. For example, despite the QM rule that caps borrowers’ DTI ratio for many loans, the fraction of high-DTI loans does not appear to have declined in 2014 from 2013. However, as discussed in more detail later, there are significant challenges in determining the extent to which the new rules have influenced the mortgage market, and the results here do not necessarily rule out significant effects or the possibility that effects may arise in the future. (4)

This analysis is apparently reacting to those who have claimed that the new regulatory environment is restricting lending too much. The mortgage market is generally too complicated for simple assertions like “new regulations have restricted credit too heavily” or “not enough” There are so many relevant factors, such as changes in the interest rate environment, the unemployment rate and the change in the cost of housing, to be confident about the effect of the change in regulations, particularly over a short time span. But the FFIEC analysis seems to have it right that the new regs did not have such a great impact when they went into effect on January 1, 2014, given the similarities in the 2013 and 2014 data. This reflects well on the rule-writing process for the QM and ATR rules. Time will tell whether and how they will need to be tweaked.

While the discussion of the new rules was comforting, I found the discussion of FHA mortgages disturbing: “The higher-priced fraction of FHA home-purchase loans spiked from about 5 percent in early 2013 to about 40 percent after May 2013 and continued at monthly rates between 35 and 52 percent through 2014, for an annual average incidence of about 44 percent in 2014.” (15) Higher-priced first-lien loans are those with an APR that is at least one and a half percentage points higher than the average prime offer rate for loans of a similar type.

The FHA often provides the only route to homeownership for first-time, minority and lower-income homebuyers, but it must be monitored to make sure that it is insuring mortgages that homeowners can pay month in and month out. If FHA mortgages are not sustainable for the long run, they are likely to do homebuyers more harm than good.

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