This is the final part of a three-part, two-post series. Click here to read parts I and II, which focus on recognizing the fundamental economic problems, and fixing the underlying economic issues (such as unemployment)
Part Three – Proposed Solutions For The Housing Market
Home prices in many parts of the country are still inflated. People cannot afford the homes and cannot refinance to lower payments, so the homes go into default and are foreclosed up. Other homes remain on the market, vacant because there are no qualified buyers for the property at that price. This is a problem that can take care of itself over time, if the government gets out of the way.
Currently the government, in cooperation with banks, is doing everything to support home prices instead of letting them drop. Doing so prevents homeowner strategic defaults, and others going into defaults. It also lessens the losses to lenders and investors. In the words of Zig Zigler, this is “stinkin thinkin”.
Maintaining home prices artificially high will not stabilize the market. It is mistakenly thought this is the same as supporting home values. But inflating a price does not increase value, by definition. It just delivers an advantage to the first ones in at the expense of those coming later (think of the first and second homebuyer tax credits, which created two discernible “bumps” in home prices and sales in 2009 and 2010, both of which reversed).
We must allow home prices to drop to a more reasonable level that people can afford. Doing so will stimulate the market because it brings more people into the market. Lower home prices mean more have an ability to purchase. More purchases mean more price stability over a period of time.
To accomplish a reduction in home prices several steps need to be taken.
The first thing to be done is that the fed must cease its negative interest rate policy. Let interest rates rise to a level that the market supports. Quit subsidizing homeowner payments on adjustable rate mortgages by the lower interest rates.
Allowing interest rates to return to market levels would initially make homeownership more difficult and would result in people qualifying for lower loan amounts. However, this is not a bad thing because it eventually forces home prices down and all will balance out in the end. Historically, as interest rates decrease, home prices increase, and when rates increase, home prices drop. So it is time to let the market dictate where interest rates should be.
Furthermore, by allowing interest rates to increase, it makes lending money more attractive. Profit over risk levels return, and lenders are more willing to lend. This creates greater demand, and would assist in stabilizing the market.
Fannie & Freddie
We have to eliminate the Federal guarantee on Fannie and Freddie loans. The guarantee of F&F loans only serves to artificially depress interest rates. It does nothing to promote housing stability. Elimination of the guarantees would force rates up, leading to lower home values, and more affordability in the long run.
It is seriously worth considering privatizing Fannie and Freddie. Make them exist on their own without government intervention. Make them concerned about risk levels and liquidity requirements. Doing so will make them responsive to the profit motive, tighten lending standards, and lessen risk. It will over time also ensure no more government bailouts.
Allow competition for Fannie and Freddie. Currently, they have no competition and have not had competition since the early 1990s. Competition will force discipline on F&F, and will ultimately prove more productive for housing.
The new Qualified Residential Mortgage rules must not be allowed to occur as they stand. If the rules are allowed to go forward, it will only ensure that Fannie and Freddie remain the dominant force in housing. Make mortgage lending a level playing field for all. Do not favor F&F with advantages that others would not have like governmental guarantees. We must create effective competition to counter the distorting effects of F&F.
Government Programs like HAMP
When government attempts to slow or stop foreclosures, it only offers the homeowner false hopes that the home can be saved. The actions will extend the time that a homeowner remains in a home not making payments, and also extend the length of time that the housing crisis will be with us. Nothing else will generally be accomplished, except for further losses incurred by the lender or investor.
When modifications are advanced to people who have no ability to repay those modifications, when the interest rates adjust in five years, all that has happened is that the problem has been pushed off into the future, to be dealt with later. This is what government programs like HAMP achieve.
If the government wants to play a role in solving the housing crisis, it must take a role that will be realistic, and will lead to restoration of a viable housing market. That role must be in a support role, creating an economic environment which leads to housing recovery. It must not be an activist and interventionist role that only seeks to control outcomes that are not realistic.
Usually, the portfolio lender is a bank or other similar institution that is subject to government regulations, including liquidity requirements. Because of liquidity issues and capital, it is not possible for many banks to lend, or in sufficient numbers to have a meaningful effect upon housing recovery at this time. Additionally, the number of non-performing loans that lenders hold restricts having the funds to lend do to loan loss reserve issues. Until such is addressed, portfolio lending is severely restricted.
To solve the problem of non-performing loans, and to raise capital to address liquidity requirements, a “good bank – bad bank scenario” scenario must be undertaken. Individual mortgage loans need to be evaluated to determine the default risk of any one loan. Depending upon the risk level, the loan will be identified and placed into a separate category. Once all loans have been evaluated, a true value can be established for selling the loans to a “purchase investor”. At the same time, the “bank investor” is included to determine what capital infusion will be needed to support the lender when the loans are sold. An agreement is reached whereby the loans are sold and the new capital is brought into the lender, to keep the lender afloat and also strengthen the remaining loan portfolio.
The homeowner will receive significant benefit with this program. The “purchase investor” should have bought the loans for between 25 and 40 cents on the dollar. They can then negotiate with the homeowner, offering them significant principal reductions and lowered payments, while still having loans with positive equity. Default risk will have been greatly reduced, and all parties will have experienced a “win-win” scenario.
However, portfolio lending is still dependent upon having qualified borrowers. To that end, previous outlined steps must be taken to create a legitimate pool of worthy borrowers to reestablish lending.
Anyone who has followed the foreclosure crisis, the name MERS is well known. MERS (Mortgage Electronic Registrations System) represents the name of a computerized system used to track mortgage loans after origination and initial recording. MERS has been the subject of untold articles and conspiracy theories and blamed for the foreclosure process. It is believed by many that the operation of MERS is completely unlawful.
To restart securitization efforts, a MERS-like entity is going to be required. (MERS has been irrevocably damaged and will have to be replaced by a similar system with full transparency. Before anyone gets upset, I will explain why such an entity is required.)
Securitization of loans is a time consuming process, especially related to the tracking and recording of loans. When a loan is securitized, from the Cut-Off date of the trust to the Closing Date of the trust when loans must be placed into the trust, is 30 days. During this 30 day period of time, a loan would need to be assigned and recorded at least twice and usually three times. To accomplish this, each loan would need assignments executed, checks cut to the recorder’s office, and the documents delivered to the recorder’s office for recording.
Most recorder’s offices are not automated for electronic filing with less than 25% of the over 3200 counties doing electronic filing. The other offices must be done manually. This poses an issue in that a trust can have from several hundred to over 8000 loans placed into it. It is physically impossible to execute the work necessary in the 30 day time period to allow for securitization as MERS detractors would desire. So, an alternative methodology must be found.
“MERS 2.0″ is the solution. The new MERS must be developed with full transparency. It must be designed to absolutely conform with agency laws in all 50 states. MERS “Certifying Officers” must be named through corporate resolutions, with all supporting documentation available for review. There can be no question of a Certifying Officer’s authority to act.
Clear lines of authority must be established. The duties of MERS must be well spelled out and in accordance with local, state, and Federal statutes. Recording issues must be addressed and formalized procedures developed. Through these and other measures, MERS 2.0 can be an effective methodology for resolving the recording issues related to securitization products. This would alleviate many of the concerns and legal issues for securitization of loans, bringing greater confidence back into the system.
Securitization & Investors
Securitization of loans through sources other than Fannie and Freddie represented 25% of all mortgage loans done through the Housing Boom. This source of funding no longer exists, even though government bonds are at interest rates below 1%, and at times, some bonds pay negative interest. One would think that this would motivate Wall Street to begin securitization efforts again. However, that is not the case.
At this time, there is a complete lack of confidence in securitized loan products. The reasons are complex, but boil down to one simple fact: there is no ability to determine the quality of any one or all loans combined in a securitization offering, nor are the ratings given to the tranches of reliable quality for the same reasons. Until this can be overcome, there can be no hope of restarting securitization of loans. However, hope is on the way.
Many different companies are involved in bringing to market products and techniques that will address loan level issues. Some products involve verification of appraisals, others involve income and employment verification. More products are being developed as well. (LFI Analytics has its own specific product to address issues of individual loan quality.)
What needs to be done is for those companies developing the products to come together and to develop a comprehensive plan to address all concerns of investors for securitized products. What I propose is that we work together to incorporate our products into a “Master Product”, while retaining our individuality. This “Master Product” would be incorporated into each Securitization offered, so that Rating Agencies could accurately evaluate each loan and each tranche for quality. Then, the “Master Product” would be presented to Investors along with the Ratings Agency evaluation for their inspection and determination of whether to buy the securitized product. Doing so would bring confidence back into the market for securitized products.
There will also need to be a complete review of the types of loans that are to be securitized, and the requirements for each offering. Disclosures of the loan products must be clear, with loan level characteristics identified for disclosure. The Agreements need to be reworked to address issues related to litigation, loan modifications, and default issues. Access to loan documentation for potential lender repurchase demands must be clarified and procedures established for any purchase demand to occur.
There must be clarification of the securitization procedures. A securitized product must meet all requirements under state and Federal law, and IRS considerations. There must be clear guidance provided on how to meet the requirements, and what is acceptable, and what is not acceptable. Such guidance should seek to eliminate any questions about the lawfulness of securitization.
Finally, servicing procedures for securitization must be reviewed, clarified, and strengthened. There can no longer be any question as to the authority of the servicer to act, so clear lines of authority must be established and agency and power of attorney considerations be clearly written into the agreements.
Time and again, I have referenced having quality borrowers who have the ability to buy homes and qualify for loans. I have outlined steps that can be taken to establish such pools of buyers and borrowers by resolving debt issues, credit issues, and home overvaluation issues. But that is not enough.
Having examined thousands of loan documents, LFI Analytics has discovered that not only current underwriting processes are deficient in many areas still, but the new proposed Qualified Written Mortgage processes suffer from such deficiencies as well. This can lead to people being approved for loans who will have a high risk of default. Others will be declined for loans because they don’t meet the underwriting guidelines, but in reality they have a significantly lower risk of default.
Default Risk analysis must be a part of the solution for borrower quality. Individual default risk must be determined on each loan, in addition to normal underwriting processes, so as to deny those that represent high default risk, and approve those that have low default risk.
This is a category of borrower that portfolio lenders and securitization entities will have an advantage over the traditional F&F loan. Identifying and targeting such borrowers will provide a successful business model, as long as the true default risk is determined. That is where the LFI Analytics programs are oriented.
In this series of articles, I have attempted to identify stresses existing now and those existing in the future, and how the stresses will affect any housing recovery. I have also attempted to identify possible solutions for many of the stresses.
The recovery of the housing market will not be accomplished in the near future, as so many media and other types represent. The issues are far too complex and interdependent on each other for quick and easy remedy.
To accurately view what is needed for the housing recovery, one must take a macro view of not just housing, but also the economic and demographic concerns, as I have done here. Short and long term strategies must be developed for foreclosure relief, based upon the limiting conditions of lenders, borrowers, and investor agreements.
Lending recovery must be based upon the economic realities of the lenders, and the investors who buy the loans. Furthermore, accurate methods of loan evaluation and securitization ratings must be incorporated into any strategy so as to bring back investor confidence.
Are steps being taken towards resolving the housing crisis and beginning the housing recovery? In the government sector, the answer is really “no”. Short term “solutions” are offered in the form of different programs, but the programs are ineffective for most people. Even then, the “solutions” only treat the symptom, and not the illness. Government is simply not capable of taking the actions necessary to resolve the crisis, either from incompetence or from fear of voter reprisal.
In the private sector, baby steps are being taken by individual companies to resolve various issues. These companies are refining their products to meet the needs of all parties, and slowly bringing them to market.
What is needed now is for the private sector to come together and begin to offer “packages of products” to meet the needs of securitizing entities. The “packages” should be tailored to solve all the issues, so that all evaluation materials are complete and concise, and not just a handful of different reports from different vendors. This is the “far-sighted” view of what needs to be done.
If all parties cannot come together and present a unified and legitimate approach to solving the housing crisis, then we will see a “lost decade” (or two) like Japan has suffered. Housing is just far too important of an economic factor for the US economy. Housing has led the way to recovery in past recessions, but it not only lags now, it drags the economy down. Until housing can recover, it shall serve to be a drag on the economy.
I hope that I have sparked interest in what has been written and shall lead to a spirited discussion on how to recover. I do ask that any discussion focus on how to restore housing. Recriminations and blame for what has happened in the past serves no purpose to resolution of the problems facing us now, and in the future.
It is now time to move past the anger and the desire for revenge, and to move forward with “can-do” solutions.