“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
If you’re like me, the famous opening sentence to Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities
calls to mind memories of droning college lectures on Victorian literature that made you yearn for more pleasant surroundings such as the DMV or dentist chair, but it’s also a fitting description of today’s housing and mortgage markets. Given that we’re nearing the end of 2018, it makes sense to use this month’s blog post to take a look at the current state of the mortgage market and some trends to consider as we enter the new year, so here goes.
All real estate is local – except when it’s not
My favorite thing about my job is that I get to travel the country and talk with people across the spectrum of the mortgage business, from MLOs to regulators, and discuss the market with them. While often there are a few common topics of concern raised across different locations, this year was the first in a long time when MLOs in every single region of the country ranked the same two issues in order as the biggest impediment to growth: Lack of inventory and rising mortgage rates.
Of course, those issues are very closely related, as homeowners with low interest rate loans put off potential moves while the refinance market craters at the same time. The good news for mortgage professionals (according to CoreLogic data from July of this year) is that 41% of renters in the 100 hottest housing markets plan to buy a home in the next year, and with unemployment at multi-decade lows and wages beginning to show steady growth, they’re in a good position to follow-through on those plans. Unfortunately, that same data tells us that only 11% of homeowners plan to sell in the same time period, leading to the likelihood that inventory concerns will persist into 2019. While new construction may alleviate some of the pressure, it should remain a seller’s market for much of the next 12 months, even if rising interest rates do lead to a slowing of home price growth.
The incredible shrinking margin
Independent mortgage banks have had (to put it bluntly) a terrible year when it comes to origination profits. In the third quarter, IMBs recorded an average profit of just $480 per loan, which is slightly better than the $118 per loan loss posted in the first quarter, but down year-over-year. Given typical fourth quarter struggles, 2018 is on pace to be the worst year for origination margins since the crash of 2008.
The good news is that companies that own mortgage servicing rights (MSRs) are seeing strong value from them. This should continue, as MSRs tend to be a very stable investment in rising interest rate environments because loan payoffs decrease as refinance volume falls. Perhaps the most important line in the linked article above: “Including all business lines (loan production and servicing), 71% of the firms studied posted a pretax profit in the third quarter. Without servicing, that percentage would have dropped to 52%.” Unfortunately, that does not bode well for IMBs that only participate in the origination side of the business, so look for this winter to bring another wave of consolidation among that segment of the business to the benefit of the larger IMBs that service AND to mortgage brokers who aren’t faced with banker levels of overhead expenses.
Land of opportunities
Fear not, mortgage originators! While the ride is certainly choppy and likely to become more so in 2019, there ARE opportunities to grow your business over the next 12 months. The first thing you need to do, however, is accept that we’re not in Kansas anymore. If you’ve been operating in the confines of the Fannie/Freddie box and/or relying on refinances for more than 20% of your income, there are some things you can do NOW to set yourself up for success:
- Get out of your comfort zone. Examine the full suite of products your company offers. Read and memorize guidelines and niches! As volume and profits shrink, the credit box is expanding. To date, much of this guideline expansion has been in the jumbo QM loan market, but I expect the non-QM market to pick up significantly at all loan levels as we go through the winter. This will be the first “slow period” in a long while where the refinance market is almost all needs-based (cash-out, divorce settlements, etc.), and lenders will need to find ways to fill the refi void. If you’re the market-watching type, keep an eye on companies like Verus Mortgage Capital and Neuberger Berman as they continue to bring non-QM securities to market. If investor appetite increases for these mortgage-backed securities, expect more companies to jump into the non-QM pool with both feet. The key is to know your product offerings inside and out, be able to explain them to consumers and referral sources and lend responsibly. (State regulators will be watching.)
- Get back to basics. When purchase business accounts for 80% of residential originations, you can’t afford to be lax in maintaining your referral sources and looking for new ones, especially among real estate agents. No, this doesn’t mean you should consider violating RESPA’s prohibition on referral fees. What it DOES mean is that you need to be in regular contact with those who trust you and add value to their business instead of just bringing doughnuts, asking for referrals and taking them for granted. How do you add value? One of the easiest ways is to show them how your expanded product selection and knowledge can translate into more closings for both of you. With technology tools like social media and CRM platforms, there really is no excuse for not getting your name out there (in a compliant manner, of course). Don’t let others eat your lunch; market yourself like it’s 1999.
- Go where the business is. Work on a strategy to penetrate sectors of the market that are either underserved or outperforming (or both). Wondering where to start? Think inventory shortages. If people are remaining in their homes because their next “dream home” isn’t available, that doesn’t mean they’re satisfied with the status quo. In fact, renovation spending has been on the rise for a while now. Combine that with the fact that there’s almost $6 billion in tappable equity available, and renovation lending becomes a very attractive option to add to your suite of products. If you’re not able to go that route, consider finding ways to service the most consistently expanding demographic in home purchases: the Hispanic population. This doesn’t mean that you need to be multilingual (though there are certainly myriad opportunities to service the Limited English Proficiency – or LEP – market for those who are), but it does mean that you may need to brush up on underwriting guidelines for situations that arise more often in this community like gift funds, non-occupying co-borrowers, wage earners with multiple employers and multifamily dwelling considerations. Also, please consult management about fair lending considerations that may arise here so that you can do things the right way.
More market information
If you like forecasts and economic news, there’s certainly no shortage of it this time of year. Here are three of my must-reads:
As the year comes to a close, I want to thank all of you for your support of Real Estate Institute and my monthly ramblings. It’s because of you that I look forward to coming to work every day and pursuing my passion for residential finance and education. I wish you all a safe and happy holiday season, and I’m looking forward to continuing this journey in 2019!
Real Estate Institute offers top-rated 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.