Shopping For The Best Loan In The Changed Lending Environment

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It shouldn't be any surprise to anyone with the headlines of the last few years that shopping for a mortgage loan has radically changed. Indeed, a lot of the regulatory changes seem directly aimed at what were the best lending practices - ways to force loan providers to change away from those best business practices.

I'm going to say this more than once in this essay: There are now significant costs for failed loans, costs that brokers and correspondents are now going to be forced to pay. This means that one way or another, consumers are going to be forced to pay them. There are two groups that can be required to pay them: People whose loan succeeds and is funded, or people whose loan fails and is not funded. Individual broker policy is going to determine which group of that broker's loan applicants pays for the costs of failed loans: The ones whose loan succeeds, or the ones whose loan fails. To determine which sort of broker you'd rather apply with, ask yourself "Do I want my loan to succeed?" If so, apply with a broker whose policy requires the failed loans applications to pay for the failed loans. If you don't want your loan to succeed I must ask, "Why are you applying?"

I need to do some political background and warmup in order to make sense later on. I need to tell you what has changed in the background, why it has changed, and what this means for the consumer. I did warn NAMB (the mortgage brokers association) that brokers were going to be used as the scapegoat for everything. It was the only way the bankers could avoid criminal indictment, public outrage, and the mob and pitchfork crowd known as Congress. President Obama, who is on one hand inciting the mob with pitchforks while on the other hand pretending to be the banker's friend, was one of those Senators at the heart of the reasons for the meltdown. You have only to examine the public record of the period from 2003 to the time everything started unraveling to find out who tried to reform the system in time to avert catastrophe and who stood in the way of reform. Old principle: The best way to avoid being the target of political lynchings for a disaster is to lead them yourself.

Not that lenders need a political reason to come after brokers and correspondents. It's a classic love-hate relationship. Lenders hate brokers in general, without whom their margins and profits on mortgage loans would be much higher, but they love the profits from the individual loans brought to them specifically by those same brokers. To give you an analogy from a time before the internet, once upon a time airlines used to regularly get together every year to try and set the prices for summer vacation fares higher than market, so they all would make a lot more money per ticket if they hung together as an industry. However, every year, the airlines as individuals would decide they wanted all the money in profits they would get from lowering their individual airlines ticket prices to attract people away from the competition. It was comical in a way, watching the same show year after year, with the same outcome. The airlines tried for years to get the federal government involved so that they could give their price-fixing the authority of law, but even Jimmy Carter was too smart for that - in fact it was he who deregulated the airlines rate and fare structure completely, resulting in an explosion of air travel as air travel suddenly became a lot more affordable. Lenders relationship to brokers is a lot like that. Sure, brokers bring them a lot of money and profit - but if there was some way to completely eliminate brokers, they would make a lot more money for every loan they did.

The difference between that situation and this is that the lenders and those who want to help them do away with brokers have gotten a lot more intelligent in the last thirty years. Instead of trying to accomplish their goals directly, they are raising the costs of doing business as a broker to make it harder for brokers to compete, and they have enlisted to aid of the government to that end. The government, in return for bribes known as "campaign contributions" has been only too happy to help, under the guise of "protecting consumers" which in fact, has been the exact opposite of protecting the consumers. It's as if they were designing changes to harm lenders and brokers who work in a way most aligned with consumer interests.

Let me go back to the dim and far off times of an just a few years ago. Effectively Shopping for A Real Estate Mortgage Loan was trivial: Get quotes, sign up with the one who was willing to guarantee their quote in writing for the best tradeoff between rate and cost. I could lock a loan based upon a verbal representation that you wanted it, and do the application and everything else afterwards. If you were concerned about whether the originator you signed up with intended to honor their guarantee, you could get a backup provider. This was pretty darned easy for a loan officer to set themselves up in compliance with. There was a good alignment between the way that the market worked and the needs and desires of the average consumer. No need for a deposit, no need to commit yourself to a single lender who could well be lying and it was extremely easy to provide good transparent loans and actually deliver the exact loan - rate and cost - of what got the consumer to sign up because I could lock that loan when right when that consumer said they wanted it.

Let me go over what has changed, which is two big things, each with multiple consequences for the loan originator who acts in accordance with consumer interests. The first is that lenders have acquired permission from regulators to discriminate against brokers with respect to loan fall out. Oh, they don't call it that - but that doesn't alter the fact that it is discrimination. The fig leaf being used to conceal - not very effectively - this discrimination is the secondary loan market. The lenders themselves don't hold the loan, but rather sell them to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Wall Street investment firms - whether directly or not. So when you lock a loan with a given lender, that lender is ordering the money from the secondary market so that they will have it when it's time to loan it to you. What happens when you don't actually get the loan? Well, the bank still ordered it, and Wall Street still supplied it and expects to get paid.

However, there has always been and still is a certain "slop" built into those contracts, with costs paid only when the "slop allowance" was exceeded. The lenders and Wall Street both know damned well that not every dollar ordered is going to be used in a funded loan, which is one thing they pay actuaries a lot of money for, and the actuarial estimates are usually almost frighteningly close on their "money ordering" contracts. The banks, however, are turning around and charging the brokers and correspondents for basically the full marginal cost for every single loan that doesn't fund, while allowing their "in house" loan officers to free ride, making uncharged use of the "slop allowance" built into the contract. This discrimination essentially transfers all of the costs for locked but undelivered loans onto brokers and their clients. It is costing consumers large amounts of money, but the regulators are permitting them to do it. Nor do the lenders penalize in any way their own loan officers who fail to achieve the same level of response they require out of brokers and correspondents. I've said for a long time that the best and the worst loan officers all work for brokers. That has changed - the only way for a bad loan officer to survive is to become a direct lender employee, working in a bank branch.

This means that if you lock a loan with a broker or correspondent, they're going to be forced to pay the lender they locked that with a fee if you don't carry through. So in order to protect our real customers - the ones that end up with a funded loan that actually gets the brokerage paid - brokers and correspondent lenders are having to be very careful with which loans they actually lock. Let me be very plain about how far reaching this is: What matters is that there is a lock without a funded loan. It does not matter why. It doesn't matter that the consumer decided they just didn't want it, that someone else had a better rate (or said they did), that the consumer could not in fact qualify for the loan at all, that the appraisal came in too low to fund the loan, that the lender rejected the consumer's application for an unforseeable reason, or any other excuse. What matters is that there was a lock but not a funded loan. This has the effects of raising a broker's costs - which means they have to raise prices to compensate, or make certain it isn't our actual clients who end up with a funded loan who pay those costs. This, in turn means that the way to success for a broker or correspondent is going to be putting the costs for failed loans upon the people whose loans fail. Failure to do that means that the people whose loans succeed are going to be pay for the people whose loans fail. Not to mention that the loan officer who has more than a low percentage of loans fail is going to be facing higher costs for all of their new loans, because the lenders are going to be requiring a higher premium to do business with them.

In short, you can pick a low-cost loan provider, OR you can pick a loan provider where there's no risk and no cost if your loan falls apart. There will be no loan providers where both options exist - those places in denial of these changes are out of business now. The costs for failed loans exist, and someone has to pay them. It can either be the people whose loans fail, or it can be the ones whose loans succeed. Ask yourself if you want your loan to succeed or if you want your loan to fail to tell you which sort of broker you should be looking to apply with.

The second major change impacting lending practices is the Home Valuation Code of Conduct (hence HVCC), and the genesis of this is even more shadowy than that of the changes due to fall-out. I don't like it, but neither I nor anyone else in the lending business has the option of ignoring it. It is the new law of the land, having to do with the way that appraisals are handled. First, there isn't going to be any more developing a relationship between a good loan officer and appraiser with the idea of protecting the clients. It's not going to stop the bad loan officers or appraisers from doing everything they have done in the past, but it will stop the good stuff. Instead of ordering an appraisal through a specific appraiser, loan officers now have to order through appraisal management companies. This means I no longer have the ability to stop using bad appraisers - the ones who waste client money, the ones who produce substandard appraisals the underwriters reject, the ones who take so long to produce the report that I have to extend the rate lock because of their delay.

Second, the loan officer who orders the appraisal is now obligated to pay for it, which means that loan officer has a choice of either getting money in advance, or of charging successfully funded loan clients enough to pay for all of the appraisals of unsuccessful loan applicants as well as their own appraisals. The loan officer is prohibited from having the client write the check directly to the appraiser. Finally, most lenders as well as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are now requiring that the appraisal be written in the name of the actual lender instead of the broker. This means that despite the fact that I must pay the appraiser for the appraisal, the actual lender owns that appraisal, and if I want to change the lender for some reason, I have to get that lender to release it. Not likely. Even if the lender rejected the loan, getting them to release the appraisal is just about impossible. This means I have to pay for another appraisal if I want to try again with another lender, which really means the consumer has to pay for another appraisal as well, and there's no guarantee the second appraisal is going to be good even if the first one was. The appraisers are happy about this feature, as are the lenders. Consumers, not so much. It's not good business, and it's not good government. It is, however, what we're now stuck with.

So what does this all mean to consumers?

First, it means that those loan providers who really do provide low cost loans are going to have to get enough money from consumers to cover the cost of the appraisal before they order it. We should all be adults here, which means we should understand that if the loan provider doesn't do this, when your loan funds you are going to be paying not only the costs for your own appraisal, but a higher margin to cover those appraisals that did not result in funded loans. Make your choices of loan provider accordingly.

Second, it means that low cost loan providers can no longer guarantee to lock their best rate/cost tradeoffs immediately. I'm sorry, but if I lock every loan on a verbal indication that you want it, too many of them are going to fall out, which means I'm going to be liable for not only the appraisal costs of those loans that fail, but all of the costs that the lenders I lock with will charge me for failing to deliver that loan. Furthermore, if I have a high fall out ratio, the lenders will charge me extra to lock the loan and possibly even refuse to do business with me at all. This means I wouldn't be able to offer low cost loans - in fact, I'd be lucky to do much better than the lenders themselves. All of this is real money, and neither I nor anyone else can stay in business without paying those costs somehow. Since your loan officer has stayed in business thus far, you can safely assume they've got a plan in place for paying those costs. If you don't understand what it is (in other words, through being asked to pay some money up front for the appraisal, and waiting to lock until there is a reasonable assurance that loan is actually going to fund), then if your loan funds, you are going to be paying an extra margin for all of that loan provider's loans that don't fund, in addition to the specific costs of your own loan. In other words, by insisting upon no risk to yourself - no risk of losing the appraisal money, no risk of not getting the rate you're quoted - you will waste an awful lot of money if your loan actually funds. And lenders are permitted to lie to get you to sign up, same as always. Even with the new rules for the Good Faith Estimate, it's not that much harder to lie to consumers at loan sign up, and the loan officers who want to have the loopholes completely figured out.

Third, it means you're going to have to be very careful about Questions you ask your loan provider. Be very through, and insist upon specific answers. Beware of misdirections like "we honor our commitments" because nothing you get at loan sign up is in any way, shape, or form a commitment. What I'm having to talk about now is "What I could guarantee to deliver if I could lock your loan right now", because unfortunately, neither I nor any other loan officer can any longer lock loans until reasonably assured they will fund. Those loan officers who do lock everything early are going to be providing much higher cost loans, and that is for the very short period of time until lenders refuse to do business with them due to unpaid fall-out fees.

It's a situation of the sort made famous by Catch 22. Loan officers can protect the interests of the loans that fund, or the loans that don't fund - but protecting the interests of the loans that fund means you get a lot fewer loan applications, and scare off a lot of uninformed borrowers who haven't considered the consequences of their choices.

This is precisely the situation that lenders want to foster with regards to brokers and correspondents - because the average loan consumer isn't informed, hasn't considered the consequences of their choices, and is very hesitant to write a check for that appraisal upfront when they're not certain they're going to get a funded loan. It is nonetheless the intelligent thing to do, and failing to do so is going to cost you a lot of extra money.

"Might as well go back to the lender's themselves!" you say. Let's do something I don't usually do: Mention names and specific examples. Let's consider a $400,000 purchase money loan on a $500,000 property for someone with a absolute dead average median FICO score of 720, primary single family detached residence in San Diego California with a 60 day lock. All loan quotes were current as of when I wrote the original article for this:

Citi: 5.125 with one eighth of a point discount plus their normal origination which they won't detail online.

Ditech was quoting 4.625% for 2.1 points - but they're not telling you how long the lock is for. I'm not seeing if that includes origination, so even though I believe that the answer to whether it includes origination is really "No", I'll act as if it's "yes"

Chase was 5.375 for one point discount, 4.875% for two.

Union quoted me a lot of different loans, none of which are competitive (6% with one point on a fifteen year fixed rate loan - and fifteen year rates are lower than a thirty year loan everywhere else right now)

I couldn't get Bank of America to quote online.

GMAC wouldn't actually quote either - referring me to a phone number.

Same story with Flagstar

Wells Fargo wants me to sign up for rate alerts, but they won't give me an actual quote either

By comparison, at the exact same time I was able to get my clients the same 30 year fixed rate loan at 5.125% with no origination and no discount - no points at all. I made my normal money per loan off the secondary market premium with no borrower cost. If you're willing to pay origination but no discount, the rate was 4.75%. On a sixty day lock, which I've never needed in my life - but that's the shortest some of the lenders are willing to tell us about, so let's play fair. To nail down the difference in pricing absolutely, I've got 4.625% for 1.25 total points discount plus origination. So the closest any of the direct lenders can possibly come to what I really can offer at the same rate is at least 85 basis points more expensive, and I'm not certain a couple of them aren't quoting to a credit score twenty to forty points higher than I am. To put this into dollar terms, 85% of a point is about $3400 in this case. Nor were the credit unions any better on their rates than the major lenders. You want to just waste an absolute minimum of $3400 by applying with a direct lender because that's easy, be my guest, but that's the minimum difference it could possibly have been on this direct comparison. In reality, you're likely talking $7500 to $10,000 difference in costs for the same rate.

Why is it so much? Brokers are more efficient. Nobody expects me to have a beautifully landscaped building, plush carpet, beautiful furniture, a well-paid receptionist, etcetera. I make money when I fund loans. Bank employees make money whether they're funding loans or not. Get the idea?

No matter how much more efficient brokers are though, things have gotten a lot tougher for brokers of late, and consumers are now have to take a lot of the risks that lenders and brokers and correspondents (oh my!) were formerly assuming on their behalf. But the best and cheapest place to get a loan delivered to quoted specifications is still find a good broker. Getting a good loan is going to become a lot more a matter of developing a good relationship with that broker. This isn't to say "Don't shop around,", this is saying, "Shop effectively" because the game with phone quotes or email quotes that most consumers are playing that they think is getting them great loans is in fact, costing them an awful lot of money as opposed to what they could be getting by slowing down and having a real conversation with prospective loan providers. I don't often make $3400 (the minimum difference from the actual example above) for a day's work, which equates to a yearly gross of $680,000 for a day spent shopping your loan effectively. Someone making $680,000 per year doesn't need a loan for a $500,000 property, so I suspect the time it takes to slow down and have the full conversation will pay for itself for those folks, too.

As I said at the beginning of this article, the changes in the market in the last year are such that they are almost calculated to drive the low cost loan provider with consumer driven practices of a year ago out of the business. I'm not happy about any of these changes, but I have two choices: Do what is necessary to change, or leave the business. It won't help me or consumers to leave the business. All it would do is leave me broke and competing for limited employment opportunities while the consumers I would otherwise serve are left at the mercy of less ethical higher cost providers.

Now more than ever before, the sign of a good low cost loan provider is one who doesn't ask their serious loan applicants who really want a loan to pay for the costs of the unserious jokers who are just shopping ad nauseum for the sort of loan officer that's going out of business as we speak. As I said, these extra costs exist. They have to get paid somehow. You can choose a loan provider who makes the failed loans pay their own costs, or you can choose a loan officer who makes the successful loans pay for the costs of the failed loans. Everybody else is going to be out of business. And all of the consumers that kid themselves otherwise are wasting thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars.

Caveat Emptor

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on March 22, 2020 7:00 AM.

Loan Qualification Standards - Loan to Value Ratio was the previous entry in this blog.

Variable or Range Pricing of Real Estate is the next entry in this blog.

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