MBA chief economist addresses industry challenges in House testimony

Mike Fratantoni, the chief economist and senior vice president of research and industry technology at the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA), addressed three major challenges in the housing market during testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives‘ Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance. 

The biggest challenge in today’s housing market is the lack of inventory, Fratantoni said in his written statement on Wednesday.

“While the demographic fundamentals of the market continue to support strong housing demand for the next several years, the market is millions of units short of that needed to support this demand,” he said.

The silver lining, however, is that builders have picked up their pace of construction. New homes now account for roughly one-third of homes on the market, which compares to a more typical historical share of 10%.

As a result, a large delivery of multifamily units is expected over the next few years, but the recent trend in elevated mortgage rates has exacerbated this supply shortfall, Fratantoni explained.

Compounding the lack of supply is the proverbial “lock-in“ effect that has disincentivized homeowners to sell their current properties, thereby giving up a low mortgage rate and taking on a new loan at a much higher rate. 

“A homeowner that was able to refinance into a low-3% or high-2% mortgage rate is just much less likely to list their property,” Fratantoni told lawmakers. “It doesn’t mean they’re never going to list … but it’s a friction in the system, so it’s going to keep existing inventory much lower than it otherwise would be.

“That’s been a support to home prices, but for someone trying to get into the market, it’s really an obstacle.”

Concerns over Basel III Endgame

Fratantoni also expressed concern that the recent Basel III Endgame proposal would accelerate the trend of the mortgage market shifting away from depository institutions, particularly large banks, toward non-depositories and independent mortgage banks. 

The Basel Endgame proposal — issued by the Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) in July 2023 – boosted capital requirements for residential mortgage portfolios at large U.S. banks in comparison to international standards. 

Under the draft proposal, 40% to 90% risk weights would be assigned for large banks that issue residential mortgages, depending on the loan-to-value ratio, which is 20 basis points above the international standard. 

MBA’s comment letter highlighted the overly conservative risk weights on mortgages — particularly for low down payment loans favored by first-time homebuyers — and the lack of benefit for loans with mortgage insurance. It also mentioned the punitive treatment of mortgage servicing rights (MSRs) and the burdensome treatment of warehouse lending as being particularly negative for the mortgage market.

The Basel Endgame proposal would increase capital requirements on all three types of mortgage activities by banks — low down payment loans held on balance sheets, mortgage servicing and warehouse lending.

As a result, the Basel Endgame proposal “poses a significant risk to the stability of the housing finance market if it is not modified across all of these dimensions,” Frantantoni stated.

Rising cost of property insurance

Addressing the increased cost of property insurance for both prospective homebuyers and current homeowners is a priority for the MBA.

“The lack of availability and cost of homeowners insurance … it’s not only impacting the ability of borrowers to qualify for a loan, but increasing payments for existing homeowners to such an extent really puts them on an unstable path, so it really is front and center for us right now,” Fratantoni told lawmakers.

The average cost to insure a $300,000 home surged by 12% in 2023, reaching $1,770 per year, according to an Insurify report. 

Certain insurance carriers have also limited their participation in natural disaster-prone states like California and Florida, given the increases in risks and costs.

Over the past 18 months, seven of the 12 largest insurance companies by market share in California have either paused or restricted new policies in the state, highlighted by the departures of State Farm and Allstate in June 2023.

Due to these departures and price hikes, the California FAIR Plan, the state’s insurer of last resort, has seen enrollment double over the past few years.

“Although these increases in premiums and reductions in availability of insurance have been concentrated in certain markets at this point, the concerns regarding property insurance continue to build for our lender members in the residential, multifamily and commercial sectors — and for all their customers,” Fratantoni said.

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