Five Keys to Effective Sales Leadership in a Post-Dodd-Frank World, fom Nationalmortgageprofessional.com


The Dodd-Frank Act and the Federal Reserve Board’s loan originator (LO) compensation rule, which came into effect a little over one year ago, created some serious challenges for leadership in the mortgage industry. The biggest concern we see industry leaders wrestle with now is about “shaving” or “saving” … that is, are you shaving price to save deals or are you saving profit at the expense of losing deals? And, how do you make it all work? How do you make enough revenue per loan to make a deal worth doing on $100,000 loan, without pricing yourself “out of the market” on the larger $300,000 or $400,000 loans? Can you actually “have your cake and eat it too?”

In today’s environment, sales leadership, organization and volume planning have become critical keys to success. In our work as a coaching company specific to the mortgage industry, our team deals with a wide variety of loan officers in diverse markets across the nation. We’ve seen many different pricing models emerge, and many mortgage companies are finding it more important than ever to redefine their value proposition in an effort to separate their businesses from the competition.

Here are five key strategies to help you build a profitable business in our current market, despite the limitations and challenges we face.

Step 1: Determine your monthly volume goals 
The first key is knowing where to start. The most effective sales leaders in this post-Dodd-Frank Act era have helped their LOs understand where their business is coming from, and how many loans must close each month to reach their income goals.

First, define your typical market and establish pricing based on a “per loan” revenue target that is expressed as a percentage of loan amount that equals in dollars the kind of revenue and commission you want to generate per loan. Then, determine each LO’s monthly production goal, based on how much money each LO wants to make. Have each LO work out how many loans need to close each month to reach his or her individual income goal.

Next, factor in the conversion ratios to determine how many leads they must generate to ensure they hit that goal. If your LOs don’t already know what their conversion ratios are, take a closer look at the previous year’s production numbers. Determine how many applications were taken and compare that to how many loans actually closed, this gives you a good ballpark figure to start with. But, to dial this in better for the future, start tracking these numbers to determine what the real conversion ratio is for each team member.

So, our first step is to begin with the end in mind. Help your team determine what they really want to achieve personally, and then work backwards to decide what level of activity it will take to reach that vision.

Helping your team know what your lead generation targets are on a weekly basis, is the first critical step to success in the current environment. Keep an open line of communication with your team and discuss the numbers, the pricing, and how to overcome challenges in your specific market. This will keep your team focused on proactive business development, rather than reactively “doing business by accident.”

Step 2: Define your “perfect” borrower
To win in today’s market, your LOs must exude confidence and trust in every transaction. Your pricing model should fit both your company culture and the type of borrowers you choose to work with. But you should also challenge your team to think seriously about how they can be more valuable to their customers and offer a level of service that goes well beyond the promises of great price and “world class” service offered by everyone else (whether they can really provide it or not).
For example, if you choose to work with high-end clientele, your LOs must become experts at strategies to differentiate themselves at a higher level. They need to be able to efficiently offer a more in-depth consideration of the long term financial impact of the mortgage choices they make in real long term dollars.

And, since the LO compensation rules mandate that we cannot lower our price on any one specific deal, we need systems, tools and strategies to ensure that we can be confident in charging a higher profit—even on the larger deals—if we are going to be able to also make the smaller deals worth doing.

Knowing your market and being realistic about the type of business your team wants to attract will also enable your team to focus their energy and efforts on the production, and not the difficulties.
This focus and consistent attention to production activity is a critical element in establishing an effective sales process.

Step 3: Define your value proposition 
In the post-Dodd-Frank world, it has become more critical than ever for sales teams and leaders to focus on differentiation strategies and value propositions, and how to make sure those value propositions are understood by the consumer consistently. The team that truly understands the company’s value proposition will clearly and consistently articulate this value to the consumer.
Mortgage advisors who reinforce the company’s value proposition—while they are in the process of helping the client set up their loan structure—are winning hands down.

Sales teams that spend a significant amount of time and energy drilling, practicing and learning the art of communicating a stronger value proposition are able to focus on the long-term benefits of the choices that a borrower makes when setting up the mortgage. By focusing on the client’s long-term financial growth and overall net worth down the road, and then dollarizing that value difference to the consumer will offset the few dollars or cents a month in interest rate or upfront closing costs offered by a slightly lower priced competitor.

Though you may occasionally lose the extremely high maintenance, hardcore rate shopper, in the long run, your LOs will see a significant increase in their conversion ratio and corresponding income.

Step 4: Focus on growth
No single LO can win a market. It takes a whole team working together under a common brand identity to build a solid reputation. Working together, over an extended period of time, on what makes your company uniquely more valuable to the customer will make your company the dominant force in your marketplace.

To get your entire team dialed in and really working as a team, you must encourage collaboration. Schedule meetings on a regular basis to brainstorm ideas, discuss the company’s branding strategy, and leverage the unique talents and strengths of your team. This consideration includes advertising, attending trade shows, an Internet presence, social media activity, e-mail campaigns, direct mail, and traditional person-to-person marketing and referral partner development.

For example, if you have an LO with a strong marketing background and a passion for direct mail marketing, encourage that LO to use those skills to benefit the entire team. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if a different LO has the natural charisma and passion for meeting new people, encourage that LO to attend as many networking events and trade shows as possible, to attract new clients and at the same time connect the entire team and company to the community in a very visible way.

As a team, discuss how to establish referral networks, what’s working and what are the best practices in your marketplace. Explore what opportunities you have as a team to reach a wider audience and leverage existing relationships into to multiple opportunities.
A well-oiled, well-orchestrated sales team that sees the benefit of idea sharing profits tenfold what one individual can create. But, it is critical to steer the team away from internal competition and backstabbing that can very quickly kill morale.

It’s important for the sales manager to be fair in these open forums. It’s natural to have one or two LOs who stand out from the rest. Help the ambitious, goal-oriented members of your team to direct that energy in a positive way towards helping the weaker members of the team. Help them understand that the greater goal is to strengthen the team’s presence in your market by sharing their insight and wisdom. The reputation and the strength of the team as a whole is how market share is captured.

Step 5: Establish effective accountability and performance management
A big part of accountability and performance management is tracking. The law of the Hawthorne Effect tells us that what gets measured gets done. Compare it to tracking your diet and your sugar intake. If a doctor gives a diabetic an effective tool to track sugar levels and eating habits, the disease may be managed. But, when the patient forgets to keep track of dietary intake, the sugar levels can spiral out of control fairly quickly and with dire consequences.

The same goes for performance tracking. But, much more than the traditional “call report,” an effective performance tracking tool should help your loan originators sustain the volume of activity necessary to ensure they hit their desired closing numbers. Your tracking tool should also help each LO recognize what efforts are successfully working and which ones aren’t, and track the source of the lead and the specific obstacles faced in trying to capture that lead.

It should make clear which lead sources are providing a 20 percent conversion rate versus an 80 percent conversion rate. This enables the LO to adjust time and energy spent on various work efforts, and adjust strategies to reach significantly higher volume levels in dramatically less time by focusing on high pay-off activities.

So, can a leader be made, or are the leaders of the world simply unique individuals who come with the right set of personality and experience? Certainly, personality traits and skills are required to be an effective leader, but, in life, there are very few “natural born” leaders in existence. They are almost always created through the crucible of effective training, practice and experiential learning. If you are a sales leader, a sales manager, or the owner of a company, I encourage you to implement these five keys to effective leadership in your business.

Erik Janeczko is the head coach and chief business development strategist for Maximum Acceleration, a coaching system designed to help loan originators build their businesses by implementing proven core strategies. NationalMortgageProfessional.com readers can download Erik’s free goal planning and performance tracking tools at www.maccelcoach.com/plantools. He may be reached by phone at (573) 298-4237, ext. 101 or e-mail erik@maccelcoach.com.

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Has Housing Really Bottomed? Oftwominds.com


Massive intervention by Federal agencies and the Federal Reserve have kept the market from discovering price and the risk premium in real estate. That sets up a “catch the falling knife” possibility for impatient real estate investors.

 

A substantial percentage of many households’ net worth is comprised of the equity in their home. With the beating home prices have taken since 2007, existing and soon-to-be homeowners are keen to know: Are prices stabilizing? Will they begin to recover from here? Or is the “knife” still falling?

To understand where housing prices are headed, we need to understand what drives them in the first place: policy, perception, and price discovery.

In my December 2011 look at housing, I examined systemic factors such as employment and demographics that represent ongoing structural impediments to the much-awaited recovery in housing valuations and sales. This time around, we’re going to consider policy factors that influence the housing market.

Yesterday while standing in line at our credit union I overheard another customer at a teller’s window request that her $100,000 Certificate of Deposit (CD) be withdrawn and placed in her checking account because, she said, “I’m not earning anything.” The woman was middle-aged and dressed for work in a professional white- collar environment — a typical member, perhaps, of the vanishing middle class.

Sadly, she is doing exactly what Ben Bernanke’s Federal Reserve policies are intended to push people into doing: abandoning capital accumulation (savings) in favor of consumption or trying for a higher yield in risk assets such as stocks and real estate.

It may strike younger readers as unbelievable that a few decades ago, in the low-inflation 1960s, savings accounts earned a government-stipulated minimum yield of 5.25%, regardless of where the Fed Funds Rate might be. Capital accumulation was widely understood to be the bedrock of household financial security and the source of productive lending, whether for 30-year home mortgages or loans taken on to expand an enterprise.

How times — and the US economy — have changed.

Now the explicit policy of the nation’s private central bank (the Federal Reserve) and the federal government’s myriad housing and mortgage agencies is to punish saving with essentially negative returns in favor of blatant speculation with borrowed money. Official inflation is around 3% and savings accounts earn less than 0.1%, leaving savers with a net loss of about 3% every year.  Even worse — if that is possible — these same agencies have extended housing lenders trillions of dollars in bailouts, backstops and guarantees, creating institutionalized moral hazard on an unprecedented scale.

Recall that moral hazard simply means that the relationship between risk and return and has been severed, so risk can be taken in near-infinite amounts with the assurance that if that risk blows up, the gains remain in the hands of the speculator. Another way of describing this policy of government bailouts is “profits are private but losses are socialized.” That is, any profits earned from risky speculation are the speculator’s to keep, while all the losses are transferred to the public.

While the housing bubble was most certainly based on a credit bubble enabled by lax oversight and fraudulent practices, the aftermath can be fairly summarized as institutionalizing moral hazard.

Policy as Behavior Modification and Perception Management

Quasi-official pronouncements by Fed Board members suggest that the Fed’s stated policy of punishing savers with a zero-interest rate policy (ZIRP) is outwardly designed to lower the cost of refinancing mortgages and buying a house. The first is supposed to free up cash that households can then spend on consumption, thereby boosting the economy. With savings earning a negative yield, consuming more becomes a tangibly attractive alternative. (How keeping the factories in Asia humming will boost the American economy is left unstated.)

This near-complete destruction of investment income from household savings yields a rather poor return. Plausible estimates of the total gain that could be reaped by widespread refinancing hover around $40 billion a year, which is not much in a $15 trillion economy.

There are real-world limits on this policy as well. Since the Fed can’t actually force lenders to refinance underwater mortgages, millions of homeowners are unable to take advantage of lower rates. From the point of view of lenders, declining household incomes and mortgages that exceed the home value (so-called negative equity) have lowered the creditworthiness of many homeowners.

As a result, the stated Fed policy goal of lowering mortgage payments to boost consumer spending has met with limited success. Somewhat ironically, the mortgage industry’s well-known woes — extended time-frames for involuntary foreclosure, lenders’ hesitancy to concede to short sales (where the house is sold for less than the mortgage and the lender absorbs a loss), and strategic/voluntary defaults — may be putting an estimated $80 billion in “free cash” that once went to mortgages into defaulting consumer’s hands.

The failure of the Fed’s policies to increase household’s surplus income via ZIRP leads us to the second implicit goal, lowering the cost of home ownership via super-low mortgage rates, which serves both as behavior modification and perception management. If low-interest rate mortgages and subsidized Federal programs that offer low down payments drop the price of home ownership below that of renting an equivalent house, then there is a substantial financial incentive to buy rather than rent.

The implicit goal is to shape a general perception that the bottom is in, and it’s now safe to buy housing.

First-time home buying programs and FHA (Federal Housing Authority) and VA (Veterans Administration) loans all offer very low down-payment options to qualified buyers. This extends a form of moral hazard to buyers as well as lenders: If a buyer need only scrape up $2,000 to buy a house, their losses are limited should they default to this same modest sum. Meanwhile, lenders working under the guarantee of FHA- and VA-backed loans are also insured against losses.

The Fed’s desire to boost home sales by any means available is transparent. By boosting home sales, it hopes to stem the decline of house valuations and thus stop the hemorrhaging of bank losses from writing down impaired loan portfolios, and also stabilize remaining home equity for households, which has shrunk to a meager 38% of housing value.

As many have noted, given that about 30% of all homes are owned free and clear, the amount of equity residing in the 70% of homes with a mortgage may well be in the single digits. (Data on actual equity remaining in mortgaged homes is not readily available, and would be subject to wide differences of opinion on actual market valuations.)

Broadly speaking, housing as the bedrock of middle class financial security has been either destroyed (no equity) or severely impaired (limited equity).  The oversupply of homes on the market and in the “shadow inventory” of defaulted/foreclosed homes awaiting auction has also impaired the ability of homeowners to sell their property; in this sense, any remaining equity is trapped, as selling is difficult and equity extraction via HELOCs (home equity lines of credit) has, for all intents and purposes, vanished.

The Fed’s strategy, in conjunction with the government-owned and -operated mortgage agencies that own or guarantee the majority of mortgages in the US (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA, and the VA), is to stabilize the housing market through subsidizing the cost of mortgage borrowing by shifting hundreds of billions of dollars out of savers’ earnings with ZIRP.

Since roughly 60% of households either already own a home or are ensnared in the default/foreclosure process, then the pool of buyers boils down to two classes: buyers who would be marginal if not for government subsidies and super-low mortgage rates, and investors seeking some sort of return above that of US Treasury bonds. The Fed has handed investors two choices to risk a return above inflation: equities (the stock market) or real estate. Given the uneven track record of stocks since the 2009 meltdown, it is not much of a surprise that investors large and small have been seeking “deals” in real estate as a way to earn a return.

Recent data from the National Association of Realtors concludes that cash buyers (a proxy for investors) accounted for 31% of homes sold in December 2011. Even in the pricey San Francisco Bay Area, where median prices are still in the $350,000 range, investors accounted for 27% of all sales. Absentee buyers (again, a proxy for investors) paid a median price of around $225,000, substantially lower than the general median price.

This data suggests that “bargain” properties are being snapped up for cash, either as rental properties or in hopes of “flipping” for a profit after some modest cleanup and repair.

Price and Risk Premium Discovery

There is one lingering problem with the Fed and the federal housing agencies’ concerted campaigns to punish capital accumulation, push investors into equities or real estate, and subsidize marginal buyers to boost sales at current valuations. The market cannot “discover” price or establish a risk premium when the government and its proxies are, in essence, the market.

By some accounts, literally 99% of all mortgages in the U.S. are government-issued or -guaranteed. If any other sector was so completely owned by the federal government, most people would concede that it was a socialized industry. Yet we in the US maintain the fiction of a “free market” in mortgages and housing.

To establish a truly free and transparent market for mortgages and housing, we would have to end all federal subsidies and guarantees/backstops, and restore the market as sole arbiter of interest rates — i.e., remove that control from the Federal Reserve.

Everyone with a stake in the current market fears such a return to an open market because it is likely that prices would plummet once government subsidies, guarantees, and incentives were removed. Yet without such an open market, buyers can never be certain that price and risk have truly been discovered. Buyers in today’s market may feel that the government has removed all risk from buying, but they might find that they “caught the falling knife;” that is, bought into a false bottom in a market that has yet to reach transparent price discovery.

So, the key question still remains for anyone who owns a home or is looking to soon own one…how close are we to the bottom in housing prices?

In Part II: Determining the Housing Bottom for Your Local Market, we tackle that question head-on. Because local dynamics inevitably play such a large role in determining fair pricing for any given market, instead of giving a simple forecast, we instead offer a portfolio of tools and other resources for analyzing home values on a local basis. Our goal is to empower readers to calculate an informed estimate of “fair value” for their own markets — and then see how closely current local real estate prices fit (or deviate) from it.

Click here to access Part II of this report (free executive summary, enrollment required for full access).

This article was originally published on chrismartenson.com.

New Real Estate Loan Tax Hitting Market Now, by Brett Reichel, Brettreichel.com


To pay for a two month extension in the payroll tax, Congress (both sides of the aisle), and the President have decided to tax real estate loans for the next ten years. This was voted in recently, and will now start affecting real estate transactions.

It’s not been publicized as a tax because it’s been identified as an increase in the agency’s “Guarantee Fee”. But the money does not go to the agency’s, it goes directly to the US Treasury. The fee is only 10bps(bps stands for “basis points” which means 1/100th of a percent, or .1%). But, when market factors come into play(like lock term, etc.), it will be more. The largest US mortgage lender said recently that some programs will be affected as much as 80 bps.

This will not be an additional fee on the Good Faith Estimate, but will be factored into pricing. Industry estimates conclude that the typical borrower will pay approximately $4,000 more during the life of their loan.

Let’s face it, this is a tax. A couple interesting thoughts come to mind when considering this new tax.

First, since Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are now a funding source for the US budget this works against the goal of both parties to “wind them down”, or eliminate them and replace them with private funding sources.

Second, for those of you who will immediately jump on this as “liberal” spending….the “conservatives” were also in favor of this new tax, despite their signing of the “no new taxes” pledge.

Third, housing has led the economy out of recession historically. Housing is still hurting nationally. The Federal Reserve has kept interest rates low to stimulate the economy and just last week wrote a letter to Congress expressing the importance of housing in revitalizing the economy. It makes you wonder why all these “job creators” in Washington, D.C. are for this tax that will serve as an additional barrier to stimulating housing and create jobs.

It would appear that the Nation’s leaders have other priorities. What they are, who knows

 

 

Brett Reichel
Brettreichel.com

 

There Is No Bubble and Even if There Is It’s Not a Problem, by Economist’s View Blog


The big story today seems to be the Fed’s comments about the housing bubble in transcripts from their meetings in 2006. The transcripts show what we already knew, that the Fed was never fully convinced there was a housing bubble, and asserted that even if there was the dmage could be contained — they could easily clean up after it pops without the economy suffering too much damage:

Greenspan image tarnished by newly released documents, by Zachary A. Goldfarb, Washington Post: The leaders of the Federal Reserve went around the room saluting Alan Greenspan during his last major meeting as chairman of the central bank Jan. 31, 2006. …

Some six years later, Greenspan’s record — sterling when he left the central bank after 18 years — looks much more mixed. Many economists and analysts say a range of Fed policies contributed to the financial crisis and resulting recession. These included keeping interest rates low for an extended period, failing to take action to stem the bubble in housing prices and inadequate oversight of financial firms.

The Thursday release of transcripts of Fed meetings in 2006 shows that top leaders of the Fed — several of whom continue to hold key positions today — had a limited awareness of the gravity of the threat that the weakness in the housing market posed to the rest of the economy. And they had what turned out to be an excessive optimism about how well things would turn out. …

A Fed economist reported in a 2006 meeting that “we have not seen — and don’t expect — a broad deterioration in mortgage credit quality.” That turned out to be incorrect.

 

http://economistsview.typepad.com/economistsview/

 

Why Isn’t The Unemployment Crisis a National Emergency?, Economist’s View Blog


Even though the president has pivoted “from deficit reduction to job creation,” and even though job creation was the theme of the weekly address Obama gave today, I can’t say I’m any more encouraged about the prospects for a significant job creation package than I was when I wrote this.]

Labor markets are in terrible shape. Fourteen million people are unemployed, long-term unemployment remains near record highs, the ratio of job seekers to job openings is 4.3 to 1, and the employment to population ratio has dropped precipitously. Even if the economy grows at a robust average of 3.5% beginning in 2013, labor markets won’t fully recover until 2017. And if average growth is only 3.0% – well within the range of possibility – it will take until 2020. In short, labor markets are in crisis and the longer the crisis persists, the more permanent and growth-inhibiting the damage becomes.

So it was welcome news to see President Obama pivot from deficit reduction to job creation in his widely anticipated speech last week. The president proposed a combination of spending and tax reduction policies, and he surprised many people with the boldness of his proposals and his passion and commitment to the issue. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely to do much to help with the unemployment problem.

There plenty of time to provide help, the dismal prospects for recovery detailed above make that clear. So the time it takes to implement job creation policies – the objection that there are not enough shovel ready projects – is not the issue. And while concerns over the deficit are valid for the long-run, they shouldn’t prevent us from doing more to help the jobless. The long-run debt problem is predominantly a health care cost problem, and whether or not we help the jobless doesn’t much change the magnitude of the long-run problem we face.

The problem is the political atmosphere. Republicans may go along with doing just enough to look cooperative rather than obstructionist, but no more than that and the policies that emerge are unlikely to be enough to make a substantial difference in the unemployment problem. It won’t be anywhere near the $445 billion program the president has called for, which itself is short of what is needed to really make a difference.

I don’t expect we’ll get much more help from the Fed either. There is quite a bit of disagreement among monetary policymakers over whether further easing would do more harm than good, and inflation hawks are standing in the way of those who want to aggressively attack the unemployment problem. As with Congress, the Fed is likely to adopt a compromise position and do the minimum it can while still looking as though it is trying to meet its obligation to promote full employment.

Thus, despite the President’s newfound interest in job creation, and the call from some at the Fed to treat the unemployment problem the same way they would treat elevated inflation – as though “their hair was on fire” – the actual policies that come out of Congress and the Fed are unlikely to be sufficient to make much of a dent in the problem.

It’s time for this to change. The loss of 8.75 million payroll jobs since the recession began should be a national emergency. But it’s not, and the question is why. Why has deficit reduction taken precedence over job creation? Why is our political system broken to the extent that a whole segment of the population is not being adequately represented in Congress?

That brings me to an important difference between the response to this recession and the policies that followed the Great Depression. Many of the policies that were enacted during and after the Great Depression not only addressed economic problems, they also directly or indirectly reduced the ability of special interests to capture the political process. Polices that imposed regulations on the financial sector, broke up monopolies, reduced inequality through highly progressive taxes, accorded new powers to unions, and so on shifted the balance of power toward the typical household.

But since the 1970s many of these changes have been reversed. Inequality has reverted to levels unseen since the Gilded Age, monopoly power has increased, financial regulation has waned, union power has been lost, and much of the disgust with the political process revolves around the feeling that politicians have lost touch with the interests of the working class. And it would be hard to disagree with that sentiment.

We need a serious discussion of this issue, followed by changes that shift political power toward the working class, but who will start the conversation? Congress has no interest in doing so, things are quite lucrative as they are. Unions used to have a voice, but they have been all but eliminated as a political force. The press could serve as the gatekeeper, but too many outlets are controlled by the very interests that the press needs to take on and this gives them the ability to cloud most any issue. Presidential leadership could make a difference, and Obama’s election brought hope for change, but this president does not seem inclined to take a strong stand on behalf of the working class despite the surprising boldness of his job creation speech.

Another option is that the working class itself will say enough is enough and demand change. There was a time when I would have scoffed at the idea of a mass revolt against entrenched political interests and the incivility that comes with it. We aren’t there yet – there’s still time for change – but the signs of unrest are growing and if we continue along a two-tiered path that ignores the needs of such a large proportion of society, it can no longer be ruled out.

Promoting Housing Recovery Parts 1 and 2, by Patrick Pulatie


Previously, I have posted articles regarding housing and foreclosure issues. The purpose was to begin a dialogue on the steps to be taken to alleviate the foreclosure crisis, and to promote housing recovery.   Now, we need to explore how to restart lending in the private sector.  This will be a three part article, with parts I and II herein, and III in the next post.

To begin, we must understand how we got to the point of where we are today, and whereby housing became so critical a factor in the economy. (This is only an overview. I leave it to the historians to fill in all the details.)

Part One – Agreeing On The Problems

Historical Backdrop

At the beginning of the 20th century, the U.S. population stood about 76,000,000 people. By the end of 2000, the population was over 310 million. The unprecedented growth in population resulted in the housing industry and related services becoming one of several major engines of wealth creation during the 20th century.

During the Depression, large numbers of farm and home foreclosures were occurring. The government began to get involved in housing to stop foreclosures and stimulate housing growth. This resulted in the creation of an FHA/Fannie Mae– like program, to support housing.

WWII led to major structural changes in the U.S., both economically and culturally. Manufacturing and technological changes spurred economic growth. Women entered the work force in huge numbers. Returning veterans came back from the war desiring to leave the rural areas, begin families, and enter the civilian workforce. The result was the baby boom generation and its coming influence.

From the 1950s through the 1970s, the US dominated the world economically. Real income growth was occurring for all households. Homeownership was obtainable for ever increasing numbers of people. Consumerism was rampant.

To support homeownership, the government created Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac so that more people could partake in the American Dream. These entities would eventually become the primary source of mortgages in the U.S. F&F changed the way mortgages were funded, and changed the terms of mortgages, so that 30 year mortgages became the common type of loan, instead of 5 to 15 year mortgages.

Storm clouds were beginning to appear on the horizon at the same time. Japan, Korea, Germany, and other countries had now come out of their post war depressions. Manufacturing and industrial bases had been rebuilt. These countries now posed an economic threat to the U.S. by offering improved products, cheaper labor costs, and innovation. By the end of the 1970s, for many reasons, US manufacturing was decreasing, and service related industries were gaining importance.

In the 1980s and 1990s, manufacturing began to decline in the U.S. Service Industries were now becoming a major force in the economy. With the end of the Cold War in 1989, defense spending began to decline dramatically, further depressing the economy.

In the early 1990s, F&F engaged in efforts to increase their share of the mortgage market. They freely admitted wanting to control the housing market, and took steps to do so, undermining lenders and competition, and any attempts to regulate them.

In 1994, homeownership rates were at 64% in the US. President Clinton, along with Congress and in conjunction with Fannie and Freddie, came out with a new program with the intent to promote a 70% homeownership rate. This program was promoted even though economists generally considered 64% to be the maximum amount of homeownership that an economy could readily support. Above 64%, people would be 

“buying” homes, but without having the financial capabilities to repay a loan. The program focused upon low income persons and minorities. The result was greater demand for housing and homeownership, and housing values began to increase.

Lenders and Wall Street were being pushed out of the housing market by F&F, and had to find new markets to serve. F&F did not want to service the new markets being created by the government homeownership programs. The result was that Wall Street would naturally gravitate to that market, which was generally subprime, and also to the jumbo market, which F&F could not serve due to loan amount restrictions. This was the true beginning of securitized loan products.

The events of 9/11 would ultimately stoke the fires of home ownership even further. 9/11 occurred as the US was coming out of a significant recession, and to keep the country from sliding back into recession, the Fed lowered interest rates and kept them artificially low until 2003. Wall Street, recognizing the promise of good financial returns from securitized loans, freed up more and more capital for banks and mortgage bankers to lend. This led to even greater demand for homes and mortgages.

To meet the increased demand, home construction exploded. Ancillary services did well also, from infrastructure, schools, hospitals, roads, building materials, and home decor. The economy was booming, even though this was “mal-investment” of resources. (Currently, as a result of this activity, there are estimated to be from 2m to 3.5m in excess housing units, with approximately 400k being added yearly to housing stock.)

It did not stop there. Buyers, in their increasing zeal, were bidding for homes, increasing the price of homes in many states by 50 to 100,000 dollars more than what was reasonable. The perception was that if they did not buy now, then they could never buy. Additionally, investors began to purchase multiple properties, hoping to create a home rental empire. This led to unsustainable home values.

Concurrently, the Fed was still engaged in a loose money policy. This pumped hundreds of billions of dollars into the housing economy, with predictable results. With increasing home values, homeowners could refinance their homes, often multiple times over, pulling cash out and keeping the economy pumped up artificially. A homeowner could pull out 50,000 to 100,000 dollars or more, often every year or two, and use that money to indulge themselves, pretending they had a higher standard of living than what existed. The government knew that this was not a reasonable practice, but indulged in it anyway, so as to keep up an appearance of a healthy economy. Of course, this only compounded the problem.

The end result of the past 40 years of government intervention (and popular support for that intervention) has been a housing market that is currently overbuilt and still overvalued. In the meantime, real wages have not increased since the mid 1990s and for large numbers of the population, negative income growth has been experienced. Today, all segments of the population, homeowners especially so, are saddled with significant mortgage debt, consumer debt, and revolving credit debt. This has led to an inability on the part of the population to buy homes or other products. Until wage and debt issues are resolved, employment increases, and housing prices have returned to more reasonable values, there can be no housing recovery.

Current Status

As all know, the current status of housing in the US is like a ship dead in the water, with no ability to steer except to roll with the waves. A recap:

Private securitization once accounted for over 25% of all mortgage loans. These efforts are currently nonexistent except for one entity, Redwood Trust, which has issued one securitized offerings in 2010 and one in 2011. Other than this, Wall Street is afraid to invest in Mortgage Products (to say nothing of downstream investors).

Banks are unable to lend their own money, which represented up to 15% of all lending. Most banks are capital impaired and have liquidity issues, as well as unknown liabilities from bad loans dating to the bubble.

Additionally, banks are suffering from a lack of qualified borrowers. Either there is no equity in the home to lend on, or the borrowers don’t have the financial ability to afford the loan. Therefore, the only lending that a bank can engage in is to execute loans and sell them to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or VA and FHA. There are simply no other options available.

F&F are buying loans from the banks, but their lending standards have increased, so the loan purchases are down. F&F still distort the market because of government guarantees on their loans (now explicit instead of implicit), and they are still able to purchase loans above $700k, which was implemented in response to the housing crisis.

F&F are still having financial issues, with the government having bailed them out to the tune of $140b, with much more to come.

VA is buying loans and doing reasonably well, but they serve a tiny portion of the market.

FHA has turned into the new subprime, accepting credit challenged borrowers, and with loan to values of 95% or greater. Default rates on FHA loans are rising significantly, and will pose issues for the government when losses absorb all FHA loss reserves, which may have already happened (depending on how you look at the accounting).

The Mortgage Insurance companies are financially depressed, with PMI being forced to stop writing new policies due to loan loss reserves being depleted. Likely, they will cease business or be absorbed by another company. Other companies are believed to be similarly in trouble, though none have failed yet.

The US population is still overburdened with debt. It is believed that the household consumer debt burden is over 11%, for disposable income. This is far too high for effective purchasing of any products, especially high end. (There has been a lessening of this debt from its high of 14% in 2008, but this has primarily been the result of defaults, so most of those persons are not in a position to buy.)

Patrick Pulatie is the CEO of LFI Analytics. He can be reached at 925-522-0371, or 925-238-1221 for further information. http://www.LFI-Analytics.com, patrick@lfi-analytics.com.

RATES WAY DOWN, APPS WAY UP… THAT’S GOOD, RIGHT?, by Diane Mesgleski, Mi–Explode.com


Last week mortgage applications rose a whopping 21.7% from the previous week according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey.  Great news for the industry to be sure.  Great news for the housing market?  Not so much, when you consider that the bulk of the applications are refinances, not purchases.  Refis rose 31% from the previous week, while purchases remain low. Actually they dropped a skooch.  Low purchase numbers mean continued stagnation in the housing market and continued increase in inventory as foreclosures continue to be added to the count.  Which means lower values. Kind of a vicious cycle.  Those of us in the mortgage biz were not surprised by last week’s numbers, since low rates spur refis and rising interest rates signal a purchase market.  You don’t even need to understand the reason why, you just know that is how it works. It is comforting to know that something is working the way it always has.

What is not comforting is the bewildered Fed chairman, and many baffled economists who don’t understand why the present policies are not working.  Even if rates could go lower it would not have an impact on the housing market.  There is no lack of money to lend, there is a lack of qualified borrowers.  And that situation is not improving with time, it is getting worse.   At the same time Washington is tightening their stranglehold on lenders with ever increasing regulation, then wondering why banks are not lending.  No matter what you believe should be the course, whether more regulation or less, you have to agree that government intervention has not and is not helping.

Has anybody else noticed, the only winner in this current climate are the Too Big To Fail banks?   They have plenty of cash, since they cannot lend it.  One article I read put it this way, their balance sheets are “healing”.   Sounds so soothing you almost forget to be angry.

There is one other factor in the current housing crisis worth mentioning: the lack of consumer confidence.  Nobody is going to buy a house when the prices are continuing to fall.  And even in areas where the prices are stable, people have no confidence in the economy or in Washington’s ability or willingness to fix it. They are simply afraid to make the biggest investment of their lives in this climate.   If our leaders would actually lead rather than play political games we might actually start seeing change.

But only if we give them another four years.   No wonder Ben does not think that anything will get better until 2013….now I get it.