National Survey of Mortgage Originations


The Federal Housing Finance Agency has issued a request for comments on the National Survey of Mortgage Originations. The NSMO is

a recurring quarterly survey of individuals who have recently obtained a loan secured by a first mortgage on single-family residential property. The survey questionnaire is sent to a representative sample of approximately 6,000 recent mortgage borrowers each calendar quarter and typically consists of between 90 and 95 multiple choice and short answer questions designed to obtain information about borrowers’ experiences in choosing and in taking out a mortgage.

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The NSMO is one component of a larger project, known as the “National Mortgage Database” (NMDB) Project, which is a multi-year joint effort of FHFA and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) (although the NSMO is sponsored only by FHFA). The NMDB Project was created, in part, to satisfy the Congressionally-mandated requirements of section 1324(c) of the Federal Housing Enterprises Financial Safety and Soundness Act of 1992, as amended by the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (Safety and Soundness Act). Section 1324(c) requires that FHFA conduct a monthly survey to collect data on the characteristics of individual prime and subprime mortgages, and on the borrowers and properties associated with those mortgages, in order to enable it to prepare a detailed annual report on the mortgage market activities of the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac) for review by the appropriate Congressional oversight committees. Section 1324(c) also authorizes and requires FHFA to compile a database of timely and otherwise unavailable residential mortgage market information to be made available to the public. (81 F.R. 62889)

Obviously, this is another post on a technical subject that is not for the faint of heart, but it is very important for the health of the mortgage market. During the Subprime Boom of the early 2000s, mortgage characteristics changed so quickly that information became outdated within months.  Policymakers and academics did not have good access to newest data and thus were operating, to a large extent, in the dark.

The information in the NSMO will not only help regulators, but will also outside researchers to “more effectively monitor emerging trends in the mortgage origination process . . ..” (81 F.R. 62890) The FHFA requests comments on whether “the collection of information is necessary for the proper performance of FHFA functions, including whether the information has practical utility.” (Id.) The FHFA is also looking for comments on ways “to enhance the quality, utility, and clarity of the information collected.” (Id.) Those with an interest in securing a safe future for our mortgage markets should take a look at the survey instrument (attached to the Comment Request) and respond to the FHFA’s request. Comments are due on or before November 14, 2016.

CFPB Strategy on Mortgage Data

The CFPB released its Strategic Plan, Budget, and Performance Plan and Report which provides a good summary of what the Bureau has done to date. I was particularly interested in this summary of its work to build a representative database of mortgages:

In FY 2013, the CFPB began a partnership with the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) to build the National Mortgage Database (NMDB). This work continues in FY 2014. For this database, the FHFA and the Bureau have procured (from a credit reporting agency) credit information with respect to a random and representative sample of 5% of mortgages held by consumers. The NMDB is the first dataset that will provide a truly representative sample of mortgages so as to allow analysis of mortgages over the life of the loans, including firsts, seconds, and home equity loans.

In all of the data used for its analyses, the Bureau will work to ensure that strong protections are in place around personally identifiable information. (66)

Such a database (assuming privacy concerns are adequately addressed) will be an invaluable tool for the Bureau (and researchers too, to the extent that they are allowed to access it). One question that the Strategic Plan does not answer is how fresh will the mortgage data be. The mortgage market can innovate at warp speed, as it did in the mid-2000s, so it will be important for the CFPB database to be as current as possible and accessible to researchers as quickly as possible. That being said, even if the data is a bit stale, it will still provide invaluable guidance regarding abusive behaviors in the market. It should also provide guidance regarding a lack of sustainable credit in the market generally as well as within those communities that have historically suffered from such a lack, low- and moderate-income communities as well as communities of color.

On a separate note, I would say that the Strategic Plan makes some assumptions about the efficacy of financial education that should probably be studied carefully. There is a lot of research that challenges the usefulness of financial education. The Bureau should grapple with that research before it invests heavily in financial education implementation.