Would-be buyers face even more hurdles on home front, by Mary Ellen Podmolik, Chicago Tribune


The drumbeat from the housing community was loud and clear in 2010: There was never a better time to buy a home.

For most of the past 12 months, home prices tumbled, mortgage rates ticked downward, and the inventory of available traditional and distressed homes was plentiful.

But would-be buyers, even if they were able to overcome job worries, found that the hurdles to obtain a loan were formidable. They remained on the sidelines, and housing analysts opined that if the broader economy improved and unemployment fell, pent-up demand would be unleashed, credit guidelines would ease and home sales would improve.

As the new year begins, that guarded optimism has turned into uncertainty, thanks to a combination of rising mortgage rates, tighter underwriting guidelines and sweeping government regulation. As a result, it’s unlikely to get any easier and may, in fact, get much more difficult to buy a home in 2011.

“From a credit standpoint, I tend to think we’re toward the bottom of that cycle,” said Bob Walters, chief economist for Quicken Loans Inc. “The bad news is, I don’t think it’s going to get a lot better in 2011. You’ll hear a lot more noise pressuring the industry to ease guidelines, and you’ll hear from the industry that we don’t want a redo of what’s happened.”

Risky practices

Looming large over the mortgage market are provisions of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act that have yet to be finalized. Among them is a requirement that mortgage lenders maintain some “skin” in the game on the mortgages they originate by holding at least 5 percent of the credit risk rather than bundling the loans and selling them off entirely.

The goal is to discourage a repeat of risky past practices, but the legislation makes an exception to the risk-retention standard for what is labeled a “qualified residential mortgage.” It is the still-unspecified definition of what’s become the industry’s latest acronym to digest, QRM, that has lenders in an uproar.

If a very strict definition is applied by regulators, and a final rule isn’t expected until the spring, it could become more difficult, and more costly, for homebuyers to secure mortgage financing.

“People have some very different ideas of how to define this,” said Michael Fratantoni, vice president of research and economics at the Mortgage Bankers Association. “Some would say if it doesn’t have a 30 percent down payment, it’s not a QRM. For a first-time homebuyer, that would really be eye-opening. It definitely has the potential to turn the market upside down.

“This could dramatically tighten underwriting much more than what the lenders have already done. It’s going to make it even tougher to work through the (housing) overhang.”

Wells Fargo has told regulators it supports exempting mortgages with a 30 percent down payment. Community banks worry such a strict definition would curtail home mortgage lending.

“If you have to have 30 percent down, the American dream would become the American fantasy,” said Nick Parisi, a senior vice president at Standard Bank and Trust Co. in Hickory Hills, Ill.

Less competition

Additional regulation on mortgage bankers will mean a thinning of their ranks, weeding out the unscrupulous players. But it also will lessen consumers’ ability to comparison-shop widely for the best home mortgage product.

“That means less competition, and generally, less competition is not good for the consumer,” said Quicken’s Walters. “It might mean that your interest rate over time is a little higher. A less competitive industry has to work less hard.”

Tighter lending requirements already have steered 40 percent of buyers to secure Federal Housing Administration-backed loans, which carry their own set of fees. FHA-backed loans are exempt from the Dodd-Frank provision.

Another new wrinkle to the mortgage market is that beginning in March, Freddie Mac will raise fees for mortgages sold to Freddie that carry higher loan-to-value ratios.

Fannie Mae in late December announced its own series of considerable loan-level price adjustments, effective April 1, for mortgages with greater than a 60 percent loan-to-value that will apply even to consumers with credit scores above 700.

Loan fees aren’t the only item going up: So is the cost of money itself. The average rate on 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages has been below 5 percent since early May, but economists predict those days are nearing an end.

General guidance on mortgage rates for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage call for them to stay under 6 percent for the year, likely falling somewhere between 4.75 percent and 5.5 percent. Still, that could be a jolt to buyers on the sidelines who watched rates drop to as low as 4.2 percent in the fall.

Wells Fargo closed nearly 500,000 Loans in 3rd Quarter, Thetruthaboutmortgage.com


I recently noted that Wells Fargo was the top residential mortgage lender based on volume for the fourth consecutive quarter, ending in the third quarter, according to data fromMortgagestats.com.

Well, as you may have suspected, the San Francisco-based bank and mortgage lender was also tops with respect to total number of loans closed.

During the third quarter, the company closed 469,914 home loans, up five percent from the 446,403 loans closed a year earlier.

In the second quarter, the bank closed less than 400,000 loans, but closed a staggering 581,961 in the second quarter of 2009, when the refinance boom got its legs, thanks to those record low mortgage rates.

That, along with the reduced staff, may explain why it took so long to get an underwritingdecision on your loan.

Gone are the days of same-day or 24-hour underwriting – now it’s a couple of weeks, if you’re lucky.

Of course, loan origination volume is expected to slow this year, so maybe it’ll be easier to get that decision from the bank a little quicker.

Check out the rest of the leaders in total residential home loans closed, along with their market share and year-over-year change.

Quicken Loans was the biggest gainer (+65%), while Bank of America saw a more than 25 percent decline, but still held on to the second spot.

Wells Fargo Top Mortgage Lender for the Fourth Consecutive Quarter, Thetruthaboutmortgage.com


Wells Fargo's corporate headquarters in San Fr...

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Wells Fargo was the top residential mortgage lender for the fourth consecutive quarter, according to MortgageStats.com.

The San Francisco-based bank and mortgage lender grabbed nearly a quarter (23.13 percent) of total market share with $102.8 billion in loan origination volume during the third quarter.

The company bested its year-ago total of $97.9 billion and crushed the $83 billion originated in the second quarter, thanks in part to the record low mortgage rates on offer, which sparkedrefinance demand.

Bank of America came in a distant second with $74 billion and 16.66 percent market share – Chase originated about half of that, with $42.7 billion and 9.60 percent market share.

Their volume was nearly identical to the volume seen a quarter earlier, but 25 percent lower than that seen a year ago.

Rounding out the top five were CitiMortgage and Ally Bank/Residential Capital (GMAC) with $20.3 billion and $20.2 billion, respectively.

The pair saw market share of just over nine percent combined.

So the five largest mortgage lenders accounted for nearly 60 percent of all loan origination volume.

Quicken Loans was the biggest gainer in the top 10, with an 88 percent increase seen from the third quarter of 2009.

SunTrust Bank was the biggest loser year-over-year, chalking a 34 percent decline.

Take a look at the top 10 mortgage lenders in the third quarter of 2010: