"Fixes" for the Mortgage Meltdown - You Can't Keep A Bad Idea Down

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Scapegoating, anyone?Brian Brady notes Barney Frank's misplaced quest for one.

1- Prohibition of "yield spread premium" as compensation to originators.

2- Mandatory licensing of mortgage originators by a Federal registry or state regulator. This Bill does direct the Office of Thrift Supervision to establish a registry for bank employees who originate loans.

3- Ability to repay the loan must be established. Limits on cash-out refinances and a determination of a net tangible benefit to the borrower will apply.

4- Mandatory "pre-funding counseling" for certain "high-cost" loans by a certified HUD counselor.

All of these are severely brain damaged. In Zero Cost Real Estate Loans, I talk about what a good idea for the average consumer that using yield spread to pay your loan costs can be. Yes, you end up with a higher rate. But if you refinance every two years, the money you spend in interest doesn't even approach the money you don't spend on loan costs. Provision 2 is just a sop to the big lenders, to make brokers lives more difficult, while allowing them to scapegoat their bottom level employees who also take loan applications. I talk more a couple paragraphs down about the first part of provision 3, but the second part is another sop to big banking. If someone owns an asset, they should be able to manage their mortgage as they see fit. I can tell a prospective client that they don't appear to be able to afford something and advise them of such, but they're supposedly competent adults and my proper role, like that of an accountant, is advisory, not compulsory. But these sorts of loans lose a lot of money for lenders who over-compete for business in order to attract customers, whom they can hope to retain while selling them to marketers.

I went over the problems with the fourth proposal in Is This Supposed to be Helpful Legislation?, along with links to what others were saying.

Just this morning, Barry Campbell over at enrevanche pointed me to a new Business Week article that says North Carolina's infamous predatory lending laws may travel.

I don't do business in North Carolina and never have. But they have a 6% aggregate limit on total fees for a loan. When, even with negotiated discounts, it takes just over $3000 to get a loan done (closing costs), you tell me how many $50,000 loans are going to get done, with a 6% aggregate limit. Oh, and I I wasn't aware of this, but "The North Carolina Home Loan Protection Act bans penalties for borrowers who pay off their mortgages early," so that can't be used to cover the costs either, as I go over in Keeping Pre-payment Penalties Legal. One more factor: I believe North Carolina is a survey state, which adds something like $400 more to loan fees. I also believe it's a mortgage tax state, levying a tax on mortgages and refinancing. I don't know what that runs but I doubt it's less than hundreds of dollars.

I have to admit, the idea of nothing but full documentation loans has a certain appeal. Keeps me from having to compete with people who'd do every loan stated income, and sell everyone a house too expensive for them to afford. Furthermore, I'll bet that the entire difference between North Carolina and the national average in foreclosures would be due to this one difference. But self-employed people (with large amounts of deductions) and real estate investors (only get credit for 3/4 of rent, among other issues), both of which have problems qualifying under full documentation lending standards, might disagree with me.

So what's the issue? As I go over in Manufactured, Modular, and Site-Built Homes: How Lending Practices Drive the Sales Market, constricting the availability of loans constricts the price of housing. Were these practices to be mandatory elsewhere in the nation, that 25-30% deflation we've had in California would be just the beginning, and all of the other high cost areas as well (as what drives the cost of living up, except in DC and NYC, seems to be an abundance of successful entrepreneurs). Furthermore, real estate becomes a much less attractive capital investment, so it would have to become more of a "cash flow" investment, putting increased upwards pressure on rents just when some rental markets (like southern California) are set to explode upwards anyway.

Here's the REAL issue that politicians keep tap-dancing around, because they don't want to offend wealthy, campaign contributing lenders and real estate brokerages: There is no substitute for due diligence on an individual level. People have got to take the time to understand what they're getting into. They are legal adults, theoretically competent to manage their own affairs. If they're not capable of being responsible, why are they permitted to vote, drive cars, and sign loan Notes for hundreds of thousands of dollars? But there is no real financial education in the United States, except for those who make a career out of it, and all too often, that license is a cover for activities that would make any self-respecting shark shudder.

I read a posting just a few days ago on how one real estate practitioner built a very successful career at least partially upon a point he seemed inordinately proud of: Not asking people what their plans were. People don't like discussing their plans with folks. But it is precisely discussing future plans that enables a real professional to know what he or she should recommend to the client. Without that, even the most conscientious of us isn't much more than a sales person. You just want me to shut up and get you a million dollar home, I'm cool with that - but I am entitled to protect myself by asking you to agree that I have furnished you with no false promises of you being able to afford it, or that it's really worth what you paid in comparison to other properties at the time.

There is no substitute for real loan disclosure at the time of application, something the legislative branch has been expanding loopholes for for the last thirty years that I'm aware of, all in the name of "helping the consumer" but really in aid of campaign contributions from big chain brokerages and large mortgage lenders. Quite frankly, of the major household names in both, there's really only one that I haven't seen evidence of pervasive unethical practices that would amount to systematic fraud in any other industry, but legal loopholes, lax supervision requirements, and unwillingness to go for the real perpetrators keep these folks in business, occasionally sacrificing a few low echelon goats while those higher up make millions to hundreds of millions per year. That's why I finally got disgusted enough to start this website.

But it seems that comparatively few politicians really understood the lessons of Economics 101, or at least, they understand the benefits of campaign contributions more, and that's why you can't seem to keep a bad idea down.

Caveat Emptor

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on October 26, 2007 7:00 AM.

San Diego County Fires October 25, 2007 (UPDATE 4 2010) was the previous entry in this blog.

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