The Home Mortgage Disclosure Act requires lenders to report on mortgage applications. Here is what the 2014 data on over 9 million applications reveals about mortgages:
How difficult was it to obtain financing last year? “While mortgage credit stayed generally tight, conditions appeared to ease somewhat over the course of the year as the fraction of mortgage lending to lower-credit borrowers increased,” according to the Fed. “However, growth in new housing construction was slow throughout the year, suggesting some persistent softness in new housing demand.”
What percentage of the nearly 10 million applications in 2014 actually became mortgages? About 6 million. The dollar volume of those loans totaled almost $1.4 trillion, which is lower than 2013’s volume, but somewhat higher than most industry pundits predicted…
Of the $2.5 trillion in applications made to lenders last year, about 59 percent came from whites, and just over 20 percent came from minorities (blacks, Latinos, Asians, American Indians, native Hawaiians or people of mixed race). More than 1 in 5 applications were in the “unknown” or “N/A” categories, because many people do not fill in the “race” blank. But with minorities now around 38 percent of the American population, it appears that they continue to be underserved…
Beyond those figures, HMDA also offers a wide-angle snapshot of the country’s appetites for home loans. Of the 10 million applications, 89 percent were for owner-occupied units, with just 10 percent non-owner-occupied. Applications to purchase homes were just slightly more popular (51 percent) than those to refinance loans (41 percent), with just seven percent seeking home-improvement lending.
This data can be very interesting in itself but it helps to be able to take a longitudinal view to know how 2014 compares to prior years. This sort of data is available in a Federal Reserve report:
As this table shows, the number of applications is still down dramatically. Also note the number of refinance loans in the late 2000s compared to today – much of the mortgage activity in the last decade has actually involved refinancing.
Here is a table regarding the applicants:
As noted above, the data on race/ethnicity suggests small declines among non-white groups and an increase for whites. Borrower income has not changed much though the neighborhood income has increased a bit compared to 2004.
Lenders have new ways to find out whether those who obtained mortgages really are living in that residence:
But what loan applicants may not know is that lenders increasingly are using more sophisticated methods to sniff out lies — and they are coming after perpetrators. Previously, lenders might have employed teams of “door knockers” to visit houses to see if the borrowers listed on the mortgage actually lived in the houses they financed. Or they might have run spot checks on loans using tax, postal and motor-vehicle record databases.
Now, however, lenders have gone high-tech. Companies such as LexisNexis Risk Solutions recently have begun providing them with digital programs that instantly tap into multiple proprietary and public data resources, then use algorithms to pinpoint borrowers who likely lied on their applications.
Tim Coyle, senior director for financial services at LexisNexis Risk Solutions, told me that the company’s popular occupancy-fraud detection tool for banks and mortgage companies accesses 16 different data resources to discover misrepresentations by borrowers. Since the program is proprietary and has a patent pending, Coyle would not divulge which databases it uses. But he confirmed that they include credit bureau files, utilities bills, federal and local tax data, and a variety of other information.
It would be interesting to know how successful these techniques are. Legally, how much evidence do lenders need in order to successfully go after borrowers? It is easier or harder than evicting someone? Are there ever any cases where homeowners are wrongly accused?
Perhaps sharing this information via the media is just a technique intended to scare off potential scammers – it would be a lot cheaper for everyone if fewer people tried to claim illegitimate residency. The consequences can be pretty severe:
What happens to borrowers who lie about property use and subsequently are found out? Usually it’s not pretty. Lenders can call the loan, demanding immediate, full payment of the outstanding mortgage balance. If the borrowers can’t afford to or refuse to pay, the lender typically moves to foreclose, wrecking whatever plans of long-term investment or vacation-rental-home ownership the borrowers might have had. In cases involving multiple misrepresentations, lenders can also refer the case to the FBI: Lies on mortgage applications are bank fraud and can trigger severe financial penalties, prosecution and prison time if convicted.
Given these penalties, it seems like an area of white collar crime that may not be that profitable…
Survey data suggests Millennials want to buy homes but have a hard time finding the resources. Here is a quick look at different hurdles:
So why aren’t all young would-be homebuyers just taking advantage of the low down-payment options offered by these plans to get into the market before prices rise further? Not everyone has access to the programs that can shrink a down payment, and even for those who do, such help may not be enough. “Typically the down payment is the biggest hurdle for a homebuyer” says Ken Fears, director of regional economics and housing finance at the National Association of Realtors. “Programs that have a lower down payment are going to provide a bigger boost for the consumer.” Some programs, like Fannie Mae’s Community Home Buyer’s, require a 5 percent down payment, a sum that still makes saving a difficult proposition for many young people, particularly those in areas with quickly climbing home prices, such as San Francisco and San Diego. States like North Carolina and New Hampshire, have particularly well-regarded programs that allow for down payments of about 3 percent. Some private lenders also offer assistance to new homebuyers, but fees and additional factors, such as debt-to-income ratios, can prove more restrictive.
But programs aimed at reducing down payments for first-time homebuyers can feel like a double-edged sword. In competitive areas, where homes are scarce and multiple bids are common, an affordably low down payment can be limiting. “You’re not very competitive. If you’re going into a house with multiple offers and they see 3 percent down versus 10 or 20 percent down, they’re not going to go with your offer,” says Anne Simpson, a 27-year-old teacher and prospective homebuyer in Washington D.C…
Tight inventory is also a major hurdle for first time buyers. “In a majority of large metro areas nationwide, the inventory of lower-priced homes for sale is much lower than inventory of mid and high-priced homes for sale,” says Humphries. That can make for a stressful and competitive shopping experience where prospective buyers feel like there’s a race to save up for their down payment before rates go up and favorite neighborhoods sell out…
And for more Millennials, issues of poor or nonexistent credit and lack of consistent wages push dreams of homeownership just out of reach. High student-debt payments combined with escalating rent leaves little extra income for savings and even those with steady jobs have learned that significant raises are hard to come by. According to Humphries, there’s no quick fix. Instead, patience, education, and advocacy programs for newer buyers will be the key to boosting first time home purchases among younger buyers, progress that could take another three to five years.
As the article notes, even with higher renting costs, it is not easy to buy a home. While this article provides just a brief overview, it seems like there is an opportunity for private lenders to really help or develop this market. Imagine college graduates with some student loan debt that want to own, have decent jobs, and yet don’t have the credit or big down payment yet. Isn’t there a way to craft something based on their education (tied to lower unemployment rates, higher earnings down the road)?
You may hear a lot of ads for refinancing your mortgage because of historically low interest rates. But, only a small number of people searching for prime mortgages will qualify for the really low rates:
Have a look at a key detail about the criteria for mortgage quotes from which Freddie derives its weekly mortgage interest survey:
The survey is based on first-lien prime conventional conforming mortgages with a loan-to-value of 80 percent…
But the second criterion is even more significant. Let’s say that you have a house worth $200,000 and a mortgage balance of $175,000 that you want to refinance. Your loan-to-value ratio would be 87.5%, so you wouldn’t be included in this average. You might manage to achieve a low rate, but someone with so little equity shouldn’t expect to necessarily achieve rates near this average.
So those qualifying for these ultra-low rates must have pretty spotless credit histories and a pretty significant chunk of equity. That excludes anyone underwater or even slightly above water. And unfortunately, they’re the ones who would benefit most by refinancing. According to real estate analytics firm CoreLogic, about three-quarters of underwater borrowers have mortgage interest rates above 5.1%.
So the low interest rates only really help people who don’t need the help as much? Not much relief then for people looking to lower their payments and perhaps stay in their once-overvalued houses.
This reminds me of an issue that has kind of disappeared from the national news: what about plans to adjust mortgages? As long as the jobs situation remains difficult, have government programs and mortgage lenders made changes so that a good number of people can stay in their homes?
While some people may be interested in obtaining foreclosures through “adverse possession,” lenders are pursuing other options to rid themselves of a glut of foreclosures:
The biggest U.S. mortgage servicer [Bank of America] will donate 100 foreclosed houses in the Cleveland area and in some cases contribute to their demolition in partnership with a local agency that manages blighted property. The bank has similar plans in Detroit and Chicago, with more cities to come, and Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC), Citigroup Inc. (C), JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) and Fannie Mae are conducting or considering their own programs.
Disposing of repossessed homes is one of the biggest headaches for lenders in the U.S., where 1,679,125 houses, or one in every 77, were in some stage of foreclosure as of June, according to research firm RealtyTrac Inc. of Irvine, California. The prospect of those properties flooding the market has depressed prices and driven off buyers concerned that housing values will keep dropping…
Bank of America had 40,000 foreclosures in the first quarter, saddling the Charlotte, North Carolina-based lender with taxes and maintenance costs. The bank announced the Cleveland program last month, has committed as many as 100 properties in Detroit and 150 in Chicago, and may add as many as nine cities by the end of the year, said Rick Simon, a company spokesman.
The lender will pay as much as $7,500 for demolition or $3,500 in areas eligible to receive funds through the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program. Uses for the land include development, open space and urban farming, according to the statement. Simon declined to say how many foreclosed properties Bank of America holds.
This article describes small efforts by these lenders. If there are indeed over 1.6 million homes in some stage of foreclosure and more likely to come, lenders would need to bulldoze or donate a lot more homes to really clear up the supply and help stabilize home prices.
I wonder if the lenders are pursuing these goals with these small moves:
1. Building goodwill within the community.
2. Getting rid of the worst of the worst properties and just cutting their losses.
Neither of these options are bad but it remains to be seen what lenders will do with the majority of foreclosed properties. I think we’re a ways from Warren Buffett’s suggestion that we simply “blow up a lot of houses.”
As lenders have recently had to slow down the foreclosure process because of running into trouble for not properly following procedures, the Wall Street Journal reports on another cautionary tale: one woman in Florida has stretched out her foreclosure for 25 years, not making a payment since 1985. According to the story, this has happened because the woman has been able to make successful arguments in the courts:
She has managed to stave off the banks partly because several courts have recognized that some of her legal arguments have some merit—however minor. Two foreclosure actions against her, for example, were thrown out because her lender sat on its hands too long after filing a case and lost its window to foreclose.
Ms. Campbell, who is handling her case these days without a lawyer, has learned how to work the ropes of the legal system so well that she has met every attempt by a lender to repossess her home with multiple appeals and counteractions, burying the plaintiffs facing her under piles of paperwork.
She offers no apologies for not paying her mortgage for 25 years, saying that when a foreclosure is in dispute, borrowers are entitled to stop making payments until the courts resolve the matter.
“This is every lender’s nightmare,” says Robert Summers, a Stuart, Fla., real-estate lawyer who represents Commercial Services of Perry, an Iowa-based buyer of distressed debt that currently owns Ms. Campbell’s mortgage and has been trying to foreclose. “Someone defending a foreclosure action can raise defenses that are baseless, but are obstacles for the foreclosing lender,” he says, calling the system “an unfair burden” for lenders.
I don’t know if the system is “unfair” for lenders but it is remarkable that the woman is openly guilty about not making a payment and yet is still able to win in court. Could lenders be this bad on following procedures? Or is the law really this in favor of people who haven’t made mortgage payments?
The Wall Street Journal suggests that one particular lawsuit, begun in 2004, helped bring to light the most recent issue in the American foreclosure saga: the use of “robo-signers” by lending firms. Because of these practices, a number of banks have had to suspend foreclosure proceedings to examine the paperwork more closely:
Lillian and Robert Jackson stopped paying on their home in Jacksonville, Fla., in 2004 when business dropped off at their cleaning company. Eviction might have seemed inevitable when they faced a foreclosure hearing two years later.
But their lawyer, James Kowalksi, had the idea of taking a deposition from the signer of the mortgage papers. When a document processor for GMAC Mortgage admitted she routinely signed such papers without being familiar with details of the loans, she was tagged as one of a species now known as robo-signers.
It was a first step in the growth of a legal sub-specialty called foreclosure defense that has sown confusion and turmoil in the housing market. Lawyers in the field now commonly use a technique more identified with corporate litigation: probing depositions, designed to uncover any lapses in judgment, flaws in a process or wrongdoing. In the 23 states where foreclosures entail a court hearing, the bank may be ordered to pay the homeowner’s legal bill if a lawyer can convince a judge that the bank has submitted false documents, such as affidavits saying employees personally reviewed the details of loans when they didn’t.
Ultimately, lenders argue that this sort of legal proceeding doesn’t keep the resident in their home; they still should be evicted from their homes for failing to pay because this is just a paperwork issue. What remains to be seen is if there is some sort of “smoking gun” case where the bank proceeded with foreclosure when it should not have.
But in the mean time, it appears that there are a number of lawyers who see an opportunity here. And in the court of public opinion, revelations like this don’t help the public image of the lenders.