Thursday, April 10, 2008

More Picking On Mortgage Brokers

by Tanta on 4/10/2008 08:34:00 AM

It does upset them so much.

This is a rather startling NPR piece about NACA, a non-profit housing assistance outfit, recruiting former subprime brokers (on the "it takes a thief" model, apparently). I was struck by the phrasing here (I see this a lot):

Barbosa says she was pretty fair to her clients and got them the best deal she could in the marketplace. But she says there was plenty of incentive not to put the customer first: Lenders would offer her 1 percent or 2 percent of the price of the loan as a kickback if she persuaded her client to take a higher interest rate. That was legal and commonplace.

Then there were the negative-amortization or "pick-a-payment" loans. Those offered low payment options to begin with but often exploded on the homeowner. As interest rates reset, often at much higher levels, homeowners faced larger payments. That's because the minimum payment required at the introductory rate didn't even cover the interest on the loan, let alone the principal.

"The bottom line is that the lender offered an incentive of 3 percent to the broker if they put [a client] into that particular loan," Barbosa says.
I truly wonder how people who have never been a wholesale lender or a mortgage broker think this works. Read it with naive eyes: it rather sounds the lender is doing a real sales job on the broker, doesn't it? As if the lender called up and said something like, "I see you have here a 7.00% loan. You know, I could pay you a couple of points if you can change this to 8.00%. Or, you know, three points if you can go with the "Pick A Payment." What do you think? Want to be rich today?"

However. Unless things changed markedly in this business in the few years since I worked in it, it doesn't really play out that way. Brokers get rate sheets faxed to them by wholesale lenders. Those "premium" rates with the 102-103 pricing are simply printed on the rate sheet along with the "par" rates. Certainly you can conclude that if wholesalers didn't want brokers to use those premium rates, they wouldn't have published them on the rate sheet. On the other hand, I'm a touch doubtful about the implication that these rate sheets did such a high-pressure sales job on these brokers. After all, you can conclude that if the wholesalers didn't want brokers to use the par or discounted rates, they wouldn't have published them on the rate sheet either.

It is a bit tendentious of NPR to use the term "kickback" here for what is, currently, a perfectly legal practice. I suggest that this is a measure of how disgusted the public has become with mortgage brokers: the public, unlike the regulators and the industry, fails to see any meaningful difference between an illegal unearned "referral fee" (the classic definition of the "kickback") and "Yield Spread Premiums" or "normal" broker compensation. I suspect, however, that a lot of brokers will want to shoot the messenger.

(Thanks, Ziggurat!)