Friday, September 07, 2007

New Info on the Mortgage Lender Bear Case

About a week ago, I posted my reasoning for avoiding most mortgage lenders, basically stating that they were adding very little value in the business- mainly, saving a person the trip to their local bank.

Well today on Calculated Risk, Tanta posted a new UberNerd on Mortgage Origination Channels, which I recommend you read from beginning to end. But the relevant part is the following:

In the old days, the depository lenders had “loan officers.” They were actually officers, and they actually decided whether to lend people money or not. In and around the 1980s, an idea arose that “loan officers” should primarily be “salespeople,” not credit underwriters, because they could reel in more borrowers that way. We took them off salary, put them on commission, and sent them to sales seminars in which everything they ever knew about evaluating credit risk was rinsed out of their brains in a deluge of sales tactics and lead generation and unspeakable “motivational” rhetoric. This resulted in a horrifying pile of terrible loans.

So we took the “officer” part out in reality, if not in name. “Loan officers” became pure salespeople, who turned over their applications to underwriters, who were salaried and paid a lot less, in most cases, than the loan officers. These underwriters were stuffed into cubicles in “back rooms” where they were expected to uphold the institution’s credit standards in the face of an aggressive sales force who didn’t get paid unless the underwriter caved in. Since loan officers were paid on volume, not profitability or loan quality, the LO just wanted to get to the closing table as often as possible. The underwriters got paid whether the loan closed or not, but they quite often didn’t get paid enough to want to be beaten to a bloody pulp by salespeople and branch managers and production vice presidents. Generally the underwriters reported up to the chief credit officer, who reported to the CEO. The loan officers reported up to the senior production manager who reported to the CEO. The CEO settled arguments based on either the good of the company or the bonus pool.

Having turned LOs into salespeople, it wasn’t much of a stretch to wonder why you needed to employ them at all. The RE market was already chock-full of real estate brokers and commercial loan brokers; why not mortgage brokers? Now, it seemed to some of us that the broker model made sense in the primary RE market, and in commercial lending, both of which are complex markets in which a buyer or borrower might need some real expert help finding a seller or lender, or vice versa. The earliest mortgage brokers were, exactly, in subprime or “hard money” lending, because those were also “illiquid” markets. Once you brought brokers into the very liquid, ubiquitous-bank-branch-on-every-corner residential mortgage market, you were, really, doing something weird.

So, he seems to be echoing what I was saying. Add into that another good point he brings up:

It is perfectly possible and even frequently the case that you have a loan that was brokered to Pissant Mortgage Company, who sold it on a correspondent flow basis to Medium Dog Bank, who sold it on a bulk servicing retained basis to Big Dog Bank, who sold it to Lehman, who securitized it. Everybody counted a loan in their own “originations” or production.

As an investor in one of these final securitizations, you must wonder how all these intermediaries are racking up fees while still selling you "a great investment opportunity." That's a great question that is unfortunately only being asked now.

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