The Mortgage Industry in the Era of COVID: 2020 Storylines and A Look Ahead to 2021

A calculator with the 2021 on the display

To say that 2020 was an eventful year for the mortgage industry could be the biggest understatement in history. A global pandemic that decimated many sectors of the economy fueled record low mortgage rates which, in turn, drove record high volume. Add to that the fact that lockdowns in many areas forced people to start working from home as pipelines were bursting at the seams and you have a recipe that gave everyone from frontline Mortgage Loan Originators to underwriters to ops and secondary-marketing managers heartburn.

So, as the dust settles on the strangest year of our lives, let’s take a look at some of the industry storylines that may not have received a lot of mainstream media attention and what they might mean for the future.

Technology Takes Center Stage

The mortgage industry has traditionally been slow to adopt to technological advances. For example, although the Federal E-SIGN Act became law in 2000 and Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae have been allowing electronic signatures on loan documents since 2005, they didn’t gain much traction with originators until just a few years ago. The pandemic prompted a very fast re-imagining of the entire loan process with a focus on limiting personal contact. This forced many companies – and states – to confront the issue of various forms of electronic notarization, up to and including full RON (Remote Online Notarization). As of this writing, 29 States have allowed some form of electronic notarization either permanently or temporarily.

What to look for in 2021:
Continued pressure on state legislatures from industry groups like the Mortgage Bankers Association to make temporary provisions permanent and expand RON to additional states.

Working from Home Requires More Than a Laptop

In addition to the enormous IT staff challenges to rapidly equip a largely in-office workforce for remote work, compliance and licensing professionals in many states had to deal with regulatory requirements that MLOs complete their work at a licensed branch location. To their credit, many of these states worked quickly to provide temporary regulatory relief of in-office work requirements where possible, but long-term questions remain.

What to look for in 2021:
A state-based regulatory system is one of the strengths of the modern non-depository financial services sector; what works in Texas may not work in Massachusetts, Oregon or Iowa and states have the freedom to address their own concerns in their own ways. That being said, should the demand for remote work continue for an extended period of time (or permanently), some states – especially those that license branch offices – will need to reevaluate their licensing regulation to ensure it remains effective and relevant to the current situation. Additionally, companies and MLOs in certain areas may need to determine whether it’s necessary to obtain a branch license for an individual originator’s home. Finally, with the constant threat of wire fraud (attempts up 62% in 2020) and other issues, expect a continued intense regulatory focus on cybersecurity. Now is a good time for your company to do a full review of your policies and procedures to ensure proper data integrity and security.

Servicing Lessons Learned From the Last Financial Crash Are More Relevant Than Ever

One of the cornerstones of the response to COVID-19 is a temporary moratorium on foreclosures on most Federally-related mortgage loans via the FHFA and HUD in addition to many state-level moratoria on foreclosures and evictions. Given the shift to a truly borrower-centric approach to handling distressed loans after the financial crisis of 2008, servicers are well-positioned to provide the support necessary to mortgagors who have taken advantage of the many loan forbearance options available to them via the CARES Act.

What to look for in 2021:
While deadlines for exiting/resolving forbearance have changed several times, one thing is certain: at some point, borrowers will need to resume making timely payments on their mortgage loans. Servicers will need to dust off their loss mitigation playbooks and provide loan modifications to a segment of the borrower population that has returned to work but with a long-term reduction in income. Additionally, there will undoubtedly be many borrowers who won’t be able to reinstate their loans even with a modification. It is likely we will see some form of federal relief to assist these individuals in their transition to alternative housing similar to post-2008 programs. As forbearance programs end, economists and financial analysts will be focused on how the expected increase in foreclosures and deeds-in-lieu will affect available housing inventory (which has been extremely tight in many places) and potentially slow the rate of appreciation.

In addition to the storylines discussed here, 2021 is going to bring a new administration with new priorities and new people leading critical entities affecting housing policy such as HUD, the CFPB, Treasury and (very likely) the FHFA. Expect a realignment of policies relating to fair lending, affordable housing and the ongoing conservatorship of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (which will also be getting a new CEO). We’ll certainly be keeping an eye on what transpires and will be ready to discuss critical issues in upcoming blog posts, courses and speaking engagements.

In the meantime, from our family to yours, have a wonderful and safe holiday season and a happy new year.

Peter


Real Estate Institute offers NMLS-approved Mortgage Loan Originator Continuing Education and Pre-License courses in all three formats: Classroom, Live Webinar and Online, Self-Study. These courses were designed BY loan originators FOR loan originators covering topics you need to know to navigate today’s ever-changing lending landscape. Please don’t hesitate to contact us online or at 800-995-1700 with any questions about loan office training or requirements. 

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