Does the Bell Toil for Independent Mortgage Brokers?

This article first appeared on on November 18, 2013.

Bells.To paraphrase John Donne’s famous line, “Don’t ask whether you will be affected by the ongoing changes in the mortgage market—you will be.” The recovering but still nascent U.S. economy, the assault upon former industry practices and the uncertainty of the government’s future role in residential housing will severely challenge the capability of large wholesale correspondent lenders to adapt to the new market conditions.

According to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) 2012 year-end forecast, overall mortgage volume is expected to drop from $1.7 trillion to $1.08 trillion in 2014. In addition, the ratio of refinance to purchase mortgages will essentially flip-flop, as refis decrease from 71 percent to less than 35 percent of total new mortgages in 2014. Since the bulk of refinancing occurs in the Big Four (Wells Fargo, Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, and Bank of America), they will be hurt to a greater degree by the product shift than their smaller competitors. In fact, the lower volume and the fundamental structural change provide extraordinary opportunities for independent local and regional mortgage competitors to prosper.

Pressures on the Big Four

According to a 2012 study by Harvard Business School professors Robin Greenwood and David Sharfstein, the growth of residential mortgages from 34 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in 1980 to 79 percent of GDP in 2007 was spurred by the tremendous profits in the financial industry from fees, as well as the growth of a “shadow banking” system with loose or non-existent regulations.

The subsequent failure of the sub-prime mortgage market and resulting loss of confidence in the larger financial entities to self-regulate have had several results:

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