FinTech Disrupting The Mortgage Industry

photo by www.cafecredit.com

photo by www.cafecredit.com

Researchers at the NY Fed have posted The Role of Technology in Mortgage Lending. There is no doubt that tech can disrupt the mortgage lending business much as it has done with others. The abstract reads,

Technology-based (“FinTech”) lenders increased their market share of U.S. mortgage lending from 2 percent to 8 percent from 2010 to 2016. Using market-wide, loan-level data on U.S. mortgage applications and originations, we show that FinTech lenders process mortgage applications about 20 percent faster than other lenders, even when controlling for detailed loan, borrower, and geographic observables. Faster processing does not come at the cost of higher defaults. FinTech lenders adjust supply more elastically than other lenders in response to exogenous mortgage demand shocks, thereby alleviating capacity constraints associated with traditional mortgage lending. In areas with more FinTech lending, borrowers refinance more, especially when it is in their interest to do so. We find no evidence that FinTech lenders target marginal borrowers. Our results suggest that technological innovation has improved the efficiency of financial intermediation in the U.S. mortgage market.

The report documents the significant extent to which FinTech firms have already disrupted the primary mortgage market. They also predict a whole lot more disruption coming down the pike:

Going forward, we expect that other lenders will seek to replicate the “FinTech model” characterized by electronic application processes with centralized, semi-automated underwriting operations. However, it is unclear whether traditional lenders or small institutions will all be able to adopt these practices as these innovations require significant reorganization and sizable investments. The end result could be a more concentrated mortgage market dominated by those firms that can afford to innovate. From a consumer perspective, we believe our results shed light on how mortgage credit supply is likely to evolve in the future. Specifically, technology will allow the origination process to be faster and to more easily accommodate changes in interest rates, leading to greater transmission of monetary policy to households via the mortgage market. Our findings also imply that technological diffusion may reduce inefficiencies in refinancing decisions, with significant benefits to U.S. households.

Our results have to be considered in the prevailing institutional context of the U.S. mortgage market. Specifically, at the time of our study FinTech lenders are non-banks that securitize their mortgages and do not take deposits. It remains to be seen whether we find the same benefits of FinTech lending as the model spreads to deposit-taking banks and their borrowers. Changes in banking regulation or the housing finance system may affect FinTech lenders going forward. Also, the benefits we document stem from innovations that rely on hard information; as these innovations spread, they may affect access to credit for those borrowers with applications that require soft information or borrowers that require direct communication with a loan officer. (37-38)

I think that the author’s predictions are right on target.

 

Trump, Homelessness and the General Welfare

photo by Jay Black

The Hill published my column, Trump’s Budget Proposal Is Bad News for Housing Across the Nation. It opens,

The White House unveiled its much anticipated budget proposal today. It shows deep cuts to important agencies, including a more than $6 billion decrease in funding to the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). More than 75 percent of the agency’s budget goes to helping families pay their rent. Thus, these cuts would have a negative impact on thousands upon thousands of poor and working class households.

Many years ago, Congress enshrined the “goal of a decent home and a suitable living environment for every American family” within its Declaration of National Housing Policy. This goal was not just justified by the basic needs of those with inadequate housing, but also because “the general welfare and security of the nation” required it. As our nation’s leading cities grapple with rapidly growing homeless populations, this additional justification takes on added weight today.

Click here to read the rest of it.

Housing Tomorrow’s Seniors

photo by Government of Alberta

Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies has issued a report, Projections & Implications for Housing a Growing Population: Older Households 2015-2035. The report opens,

Over the next twenty years, the population aged 65 and over is expected to grow from 48 million to 79 million. Meanwhile, the number of households headed by someone in that age group will increase by 66 percent to almost 50 million—with the result that by 2035, an astounding one out of three American households will be headed by someone aged 65 or older.

Older adults’ homes and living situations are keys to their quality of life and capacity to live independently. The expansion of the older population will increase the need for affordable, accessible housing that is well-connected to services well beyond what current supply can meet. In addition, the home is an increasingly important setting for the delivery of long-term care, a trend likely to grow over the next two decades as millions more seek to remain in their current dwellings while coping with disabilities and health challenges.

Over the next two decades, many older households will have the financial means to secure housing and supportive services suited to their needs as they age. The focus for these households should be on making informed choices about potential living situations and locations, investments in home modifications, and care—before physical or financial needs become pressing.

Yet over the same period, millions of low-income older households will struggle to pay for appropriate housing and necessary supportive services. For these households, basic housing costs will drain resources needed to pay for home modifications or in-home services, and may force reductions in spending on critical needs like food and healthcare.

The nation is now at the beginning of a twenty-plus-year surge in the older population, and is thus at a critical point for putting in place the affordable housing options, accessibility features, and in-home care services that will be needed over the next two decades. Transportation and technologies to ensure people can remain engaged in their communities and access supportive services are also needed. While many older adults indicate that they prefer to age in their current residences, a wider array of housing types can offer safer, more affordable, and lower-maintenance homes within existing communities, improving housing situations without uprooting older adults from the places they have called home for years or even decades. (4-5)

The report obviously raises important points about the need to plan for the aging of the American population. I am not hopeful, however, that the federal government will be offering leadership on these issues. It will be up to the states to identify policies that the can implement. Some proposals that are worth a look include

  • providing incentives to include accessibility (or at least accessibility-ready) features in new construction;
  • strengthening the ties between health care and housing; and
  • increasing public awareness of the benefits of planning for the challenges of aging before they actually arrive.

Retired With A Mortgage

photo by Katina Rogers

U.S. News & World Report quoted me in Rethinking a Mortgage While Retired. It opens,

It’s one of the cardinal rules of retirement planning: pay off the mortgage before quitting work. Giving up your income while still supporting a big debt can mean chewing away at your retirement savings way too fast, and can leave you in a tight spot if something goes wrong.

But paying off a mortgage years early is easier said than done, and the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College says way too many pre-retirees are too far behind schedule, largely because of borrowing before the housing bust and financial crisis.

On the other hand, some experts say carrying low-interest debt into retirement is not always such a bad thing, especially if it means leaving money in investments that perform well.

“In 2013, almost 40 percent of all households ages 55 and over had not paid off their mortgages, up from 32 percent in 2001,” the Center reports, citing a study using data from the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances in 2013. “These borrowers were also carrying a lot more housing debt by 2013.”

“I’ve been advising clients for over 20 years and on just an anecdotal level, I can tell you that more clients are retiring with mortgage balances than in years past,” says Margaret R. McDowell, founder of Arbor Wealth Management in Miramar Beach, Florida.

A.W. Pickel III, president of the Midwest division of AmCap Mortgage in Overland Park, Kansas, says many baby boomers traded up as their families grew, then took second mortgages to help fund college costs.

In the years before 2008, homeowners were encouraged to take out big loans when home values appeared to be soaring, the center says. They bought expensive homes or tapped home value through cash-out refinancing or home equity loans, it says.

When home prices collapsed, millions were left “underwater” – owing more than their homes were worth – and were unable to get out from under because they could not sell for enough to pay off their loan. McDowell believes many homeowners also concluded their home was not the rock-solid asset they’d thought, so they felt it unwise to pour more money into it by paying down the mortgage early.

So many just hung in there. By taking on too much debt, and monthly payments so large they could not afford extra payments to bring it down, they left themselves with too much debt too late in the game.

The center says “that 51.6 percent of working-age households were at risk of having a lower standard of living in retirement,” largely because of mortgage debt.

“In recent years, U.S. house prices have started to really improve, to the benefit of homeowners and retirees,” the center says. “But it’s difficult to predict whether the other factor that has reduced retirement preparedness – more older households with big housing debts – was a boom-time phenomenon or represents the new normal.”

But is the situation really as dire as it seems? David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School in New York City, thinks it may not be.

“According to the National Association of Realtors, the median sales price of an existing home increased from $197,100 in 2013 to $232,200 in October of 2016,” he says. “That is a roughly 15 percent price increase and about $40,000 of additional equity for the owner of the median home.”

Many homeowners who were underwater may not be any longer.

Also, he adds, it’s not necessary to be absolutely debt free at retirement so long as income is large enough to cover expenses and leave a cushion.

“Often, paying off a mortgage gets a retiree where he or she needs to be in terms of that balance, but it is not always necessary,” he says.

The key, he says, is to not be underwater. Once the remaining debt is smaller than the home value, the homeowner is better able to sell. One option is downsizing, selling the current home, then using cash from the sale or a new, smaller mortgage to buy a cheaper home. A less expensive home will also likely have lower property taxes and maintenance costs.

Dems Favor Land Use Reform

photo by DonkeyHotey

The Democratic Party has released its draft 2016 Policy Platform. Its housing platform follows in its entirety. I find the highlighted clause particularly intriguing and discuss it below.

Where Donald Trump rooted for the housing crisis, Democrats will continue to fight for those families who suffered the loss of their homes. We will help those who are working toward a path of financial stability and will put sustainable home ownership into the reach of more families. Democrats will also combat the affordable housing crisis and skyrocketing rents in many parts of the country that are leading too many families and workers to be pushed out of communities where they work.

We will increase the supply of affordable rental housing by expanding incentives and easing local barriers to building new affordable rental housing developments in areas of economic opportunity. We will substantially increase funding for the National Housing Trust Fund to construct, preserve, and rehabilitate millions of affordable housing rental units. Not only will this help address the affordable housing crisis, it will also create millions of good-paying jobs in the process. Democrats also believe that we should provide more federal resources to the people struggling most with unaffordable housing: low-income families, people with disabilities, veterans, and the elderly.

We will reinvigorate federal housing production programs, increase resources to repair public housing, and increase funding for the housing choice voucher program. And we will fight for sufficient funding to end chronic homelessness.

We must make sure that everyone has a fair shot at homeownership. We will lift up more families and keep the housing market robust and inclusive by defending and strengthening the Fair Housing Act. We will also support first time homebuyers, implement credit score reform to make the credit industry work for borrowers and not just lenders, and prevent predatory lending by defending the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). And we will help underwater homeowners by expanding foreclosure mitigation counseling. (4-5, emphasis added)

Much of the housing platform represents a continuation of Democratic policies, such as increased funding for affordable housing, improved enforcement of the Fair Housing Act and expanded access to counseling for distressed homeowners.

But the highlighted clause seems to represent a new direction for the Democratic Party: an acknowledgement that local land use decisions in areas of economic opportunity (read: the Northeast, the Bay Area and similar dynamic regions) are having a negative impact on low- and moderate-income households who are priced out of the housing markets because demand far outstrips supply.

This is a significant development in federal housing policy, flowing from work done by Edward Glaeser and Joseph Gyourko, among others, who have demonstrated the out-sized effect that the innumerable land use decisions made by local governments have had on the availability of affordable housing regionally and nationally.

There is a lot of ambiguity in the phrase “easing local barriers to building new affordable rental housing developments,” but the federal government has a lot of policy tools available to it to do just that. If Democrats are able to implement this aspect of the party platform, it could have a very positive impact on the prospects of households that are priced out of the regions where all the new jobs are being created.

The State of the Union’s Housing in 2016

photo by Lawrence Jackson

The Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University has released its excellent annual report, The State of the Nation’s Housing for 2016. It finds,

With household growth finally picking up, housing should help boost the economy. Although homeownership rates are still falling, the bottom may be in sight as the lingering effects of the housing crash continue to dissipate. Meanwhile, rental demand is driving the housing recovery, and tight markets have added to already pressing affordability challenges. Local governments are working to develop new revenue sources to expand the affordable housing supply, but without greater federal assistance, these efforts will fall far short of need. (1)

Its specific findings include,

  • nominal home prices were back within 6 percent of their previous peak in early 2016, although still down nearly 20 percent in real terms. The uptick in nominal prices helped to reduce the number of homeowners underwater on their mortgages from 12.1 million at the end of 2011 to 4.3 million at the end of 2015. Delinquency rates also receded, with the share of loans entering foreclosure down sharply as well. (1)
  • The US homeownership rate has tumbled to its lowest level in nearly a half-century. . . . But a closer look at the forces driving this trend suggests that the weakness in homeownership should moderate over the next few years. (2)
  • The rental market continues to drive the housing recovery, with over 36 percent of US households opting to rent in 2015—the largest share since the late 1960s. Indeed, the number of renters increased by 9 million over the past decade, the largest 10-year gain on record. Rental demand has risen across all age groups, income levels, and household types, with large increases among older renters and families with children. (3)

There is a lot more of value in the report, but I will leave it to readers to locate what is relevant to their own interests in the housing industry.

I would be remiss, though, in not reiterating my criticism of this annual report: it fails to adequately disclose who funded it. The acknowledgments page says that principal funding for it comes from the Center’s Policy Advisory Board, but it does not list the members of the board.

Most such reports have greater transparency about funders, but the interested reader of this report would need to search the Center’s website for information about its funders. And there, the reader would see that the board is made up of many representatives of real estate companies including housing finance giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; national developers, like Hovnanian Enterprises and KB Homes; and major construction suppliers, such as Marvin Windows and Doors and Kohler. Nothing wrong with that, but disclosure of such ties is now to be expected from think tanks and academic centers.  The Joint Center for Housing Studies should follow suit.

Foreclosures & Credit Card Debt

Credit Cards

Paul S. Calem, Julapa Jagtiani and William W. Lang have posted Foreclosure Delay and Consumer Credit Performance to SSRN. Effectively, it argues that long foreclosure delays may have reduced the credit card default rate because homeowners in default were able to pay down their credit card debt while living for free in their homes. The abstract reads,

The deep housing market recession from 2008 through 2010 was characterized by a steep rise in the number of foreclosures and lengthening foreclosure timelines. The average length of time from the onset of delinquency through the end of the foreclosure process also expanded significantly, averaging up to three years in some states. Most individuals undergoing foreclosure were experiencing serious financial stress. However, the extended foreclosure timelines enabled mortgage defaulters to live in their homes without making mortgage payments until the end of the foreclosure process, thus providing temporary income and liquidity benefits from lower housing costs. This paper investigates the impact of extended foreclosure timelines on borrower performance with credit card debt. Our results indicate that a longer period of nonpayment of mortgage expenses results in higher cure rates on delinquent credit cards and reduced credit card balances. Foreclosure process delays may have mitigated the impact of the economic downturn on credit card default.

The authors conclude,

our findings indicate that households do not consume all the benefits from temporary relief from housing expenses; instead, they use that temporary relief to cure delinquent credit card debt and reduce their credit card balances. Interestingly, we find that payment relief from loan modifications has a similar impact to payment relief from longer foreclosure timelines; both are associated with curing card delinquency and reducing card balances.

These households, however, are likely to become delinquent on their credit cards again within six quarters following the end of the foreclosure process. Thus, the results suggest that there may be added risk for nonmortgage lenders when foreclosures are completed and households must incur the transaction costs of moving and incur significant housing expenses once again. This implies an additional dimension of risk to credit card lenders that has not been observed previously. (23)

I am not sure what to make of these findings for borrowers, regulators, credit card lenders or mortgage lenders. Would a utility-maximizing borrower run up their credit card debt while in foreclosure? Should states seek to change foreclosure timelines to change consumer or lender behavior? Should profit-maximizing credit card lenders seek to further limit borrowing upon a mortgage default?  What should profit-maximizing mortgage lenders do? I have lots of questions but no good answers yet.