Trump and the Regulation of Real Estate

I have posted my article, The Trump Administration and Residential Real Estate Finance, which just came out in Westlaw Journal Derivatives to SSRN (and also to BePress). The abstract reads,

An executive order titled “Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs” was one of President Donald Trump’s first executive orders. He signed it Jan. 30, 2017, just days after his inauguration. It states: “It is the policy of the executive branch to be prudent and financially responsible in the expenditure of funds, from both public and private sources. … It is essential to manage the costs associated with the governmental imposition of private expenditures required to comply with federal regulations.” This executive order outlined a broad deregulatory agenda, but it was short on details other than setting a requirement that every new regulation be accompanied by the elimination of two existing ones. A few days later, Trump issued another executive order that was focused on financial services regulation in particular. That order is titled “Core Principles for Regulating the United States Financial System.” It says the Trump administration’s first core principle for financial services regulation is to “empower Americans to make independent financial decisions and informed choices in the marketplace, save for retirement, and build individual wealth.” However, it is also short on details.

Since Trump signed these two broad executive orders, his administration issued two sets of documents that fill in applicable details for financial institutions. The first is a slew of documents that were released as part of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs’ Current Regulatory Plan and the Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions. The second is a series of Treasury reports — titled “A Financial System That Creates Economic Opportunities” — that are directly responsive to the core principles executive order. While these documents cover a broad range of topics, they offer a glimpse into how this administration intends to regulate — or more properly, deregulate — residential real estate finance in particular. What is clear from these documents is that the Trump administration intends to roll back consumer protection regulation so that the mortgage market can operate with far less government oversight.

Mnuchin and Housing Finance Reform

photo by MohitSingh

Sabri Ben-Achour of Marketplace interviewed me in Choice of Mnuchin Troubles Housing Activists. (The audio is available at the link at the top of the linked page.)  The summary of the story reads as follows:

Donald Trump has tapped financier, Hollywood producer and hedge fund manager Steven Mnuchin as Treasury Secretary. In that role, Mnuchin would have quite a lot to say about housing, finance and policies related to mortgage lending. Mnuchin has been involved in lending before, and it didn’t go well for many homeowners.

At issue specifically is his an investment in a failing mortgage lender in 2009 called IndyMac in California. Mnuchin and other investors renamed it OneWest, and it proceeded to foreclose on tens of thousands of homes nationwide. Critics say the company could have kept some portion of those people in their homes.

The story reads in part,

“I think the really big place where the Treasury Secretary can have an impact is on housing finance reform and, really, what we should do with Fannie and Freddie.”  David Reiss is a Professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School.

Best Real Estate Investing Advice Ever

I was interviewed on the Best Real Estate Investing Advice Ever with Joe Fairless podcast. The interview, How to Negotiate the Interest Rate on Your Mortgage Down…A LOT, went live today. The teaser for the show reads,

Today’s Best Ever guest shares just how important it is to do you due diligence with everything. From negotiating the interest rate on your mortgage rate down to an unheard of number, to learning about different zoning codes and what they mean to you.

The interview runs about half an hour. I always like to be invited to speak on a long-form program because I can go into greater depth about things that I think are important. I also got a chance to discuss some topics that usually only come up in my Real Estate Practice class.

The Best Ever Real Estate Investing Advice Ever show is one of the highest rated investing podcasts on iTunes, up there with Suze Orman, Jim Cramer, Marketplace, Motley Fool, NPR and the Wall Street Journal. The show is sold with some hype, but it was a substantive discussion, geared to the newish real estate investor. All in all, this was a fun interview to do.

 

 

Reiss on Marketplace: Cash Cows to Slaughter

I was interviewed on Marketplace for its story, Fannie and Freddie: Cash Cows Avoid The Slaughter? (sound file) The text of the story reads

We are making money – the tax payer, that is – on Fannie and Freddie Mac.

When Freddie Mac hands the treasury a $10.4 billion dividend next month, tax payers will have received more money in interest than was put in. (Technically the two institutions still owe the principal on the loan that bailed them out, but the interest they’re paying will shortly exceed that amount).

But.

There always is a but with these things.

Making money for the tax payer isn’t good if you ask those who want reform.

Back during the financial crisis, conservatives and liberals disagreed over whether Freddie and Fannie were a victim of or a cause of the housing collapse, but they agreed that the institutions needed reform. The profits are throwing a wrinkle into this debate.

“As long as Fannie and Freddie continue to pay substantial amounts of money to the government, they are looked at by some people in Congress as a great source of revenue that reduces the deficit,” explains Peter Wallison with the American Enterprise Institute. His concern – shared by reformers on both sides of the political spectrum – is that if Fannie and Freddie become cash cows, congress won’t want to touch them.

David Reiss, professor of law at the Brooklyn Law School, agrees. He says the financial crisis wasn’t a one time problem.

“We should think of it as that we dodged a bullet. There’s fundamental problems with the Fannie and Freddie business model which rests on this notion of privatizing profits and socializing losses.”

Freddie and Fannie buy mortgages from lenders, and then bundle them into “mortgage backed securities” that can be sold to investors. It’s useful because it converted illiquid mortgage loans into liquid securities. In plain English, it means a bank or investor who made a mortgage loan to someone didn’t have to wait around for 30 years to be paid back. They could sell their stake in the mortgage to Fannie or Freddie, move along, and go invest in other things. This helped more people get mortgages.

One concern was that Fannie and Freddie were simply too big and too concentrated. Another concern was that the federal government implicitly guaranteed investments in Freddie and Fannie, and that encouraged people to make home loans that were too risky.

Even without the complication of profits, the debate over how to reform Fannie and Freddie is at a stand still.

House Republicans don’t want the government involved at all, they want an efficient market. The Senate wants the government to be involved a little bit, essentially to promote housing.

“What I see,” says David Reiss, “is nothing really happening, and us being a holding pattern for a long time.”

It’s possible that reform-minded politicians will compromise before they lose their chance. Also possible they won’t.