Comparison Shopping Savings in Mortgage Market

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.

First-Time Homebuyers, You’re Okay

Couple Looking at Home

Saty Patrabansh of the Office of Policy Analysis and Research at the Federal Housing Finance Agency has posted a working paper, The Marginal Effect of First-Time Homebuyer Status on Mortgage Default and Prepayment.

While this is a dry read, it yields a pretty important insight for first-time homebuyers: you’re okay, just the way you are! The abstract reads,

This paper examines the loan performance of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac first-time homebuyer mortgages originated from 1996 to 2012. First-time homebuyer mortgages generally perform worse than repeat homebuyer mortgages. But first-time homebuyers are younger and have lower credit scores, home equity, and income than repeat homebuyers, and therefore are comparatively less likely to withstand financial stress or take advantage of financial innovations available in the market. The distributional make-up of first-time homebuyers is different than that of repeat homebuyers in terms of many borrower, loan, and property characteristics that can be determined at the time of loan origination. Once these distributional differences are accounted for in an econometric model, there is virtually no difference between the average first-time and repeat homebuyers in their probabilities of mortgage default. Hence, the difference between the first-time and repeat homebuyer mortgage defaults can be attributed to the difference in the distributional make-up of the two groups and not to the premise that first-time homebuyers are an inherently riskier group. However, there appears to be an inherent difference in the prepayment probabilities of first-time and repeat homebuyers holding borrower, loan, and property characteristics constant. First-time homebuyers are less likely to prepay their mortgages compared to repeat homebuyers even after accounting for the distributional make-up of the two groups using information known at the time of loan origination.

So, just to be clear, being a first-time homebuyer is not inherently risky. Rather, the risks arising from transactions involving first-time homebuyers are the same as those involving repeat homebuyers:  loan characteristics, property characteristics and other borrower characteristics.