Credit unions worked hard in 2011 to continue to build their housing finance programs even as the overall housing industry continued to struggle with low home prices, high foreclosure rates and significantly tighter mortgage underwriting rules.
The chief problems in the overall housing industry were the continuing dilemmas launched in the housing finance crisis in 2008 and 2009.
The first wave of housing problems that hit in 2010 had been housing prices that continued to significantly fall from their previously inflated highs. Those falling prices trapped homeowners into mortgages that were well above the property’s current worth.
Some homeowners sought to escape the trap by simply walking away in strategic defaults on their loans while others sought short sales for their properties and, for the first time ever, credit bureaus reported that consumers in economic difficulties had begun to make their credit card and auto loan payments before they paid their mortgages.
Other consumers sought to refinance their loans but often found their current property value too low to refinance, or they sought out one of the loan restructuring options offered by the federal government only to never be able to get through the process.
Credit unions in general were not part of this problem as many of them had even retained the servicing on the loans they had sold into the secondary market and were thus able to more easily restructure their loan terms. But the scope of the problem at larger banks meant that the industry entered 2011 with a record-setting glut of retail property owned by financial institutions, further depressing home prices.
By contrast, in 2011 the broader housing finance industry was faced with mortgage delinquencies and foreclosures arising less from the housing bubble breaking and more from the ongoing economic recession and high unemployment.
These tended to have more impact on credit unions since CUs had not generally made the sorts of risky home loans often found in the housing bubble and which tended to characterize foreclosures in 2010. In 2011, with job losses and other elements of the downturn more prevalent, CUs began to find themselves with property on their books, some for the very first time.
This led some CUs to hire property management firms and one CU to partner with another. Mountain America Financial Services, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Mountain America Credit Union, a federal credit union based in South Jordan, Utah, with $2.9 billion in assets and roughly 354,000 members, announced in June that it had partnered with Green River Capital, a nationwide property management firm, to offer Green River's services to other CUs.
Meanwhile another CU, the $517 million Orion Federal Credit Union in Memphis, Tenn., started 2011 with a program to make sure its own members had first crack at its REO.
The Home Run Program allows financially stable members–who nonetheless have poor credit histories, an inability to obtain mortgage financing and lack a down payment–to purchase the real estate owned by the CU. According to the credit union's call reports, Orion foreclosed and repossessed on 34 real estate loans worth $1.8 million as of the last quarter of 2010.
Members in the program will rent one of the Orion-owned homes for two years, making regular monthly payments, and attend a financial education course offered by the RISE Foundation, a noted Memphis-area housing organization. At the end of the two-year period, the CU will sell the property for less than its tax assessed value and apply the member’s two years of rent as down payment.
"The goal for this program is to get good people, who may have had some financial troubles in the past, into a nice and affordable home," said Daniel Weickenand, CEO of Orion. "This will stabilize communities by putting ownership back into the hands of our neighbors."
But even as the overall housing finance industry continued to bump along, credit unions kept working to publicize their housing finance programs and chase more purchase money loans as opposed to mortgage refinances. Some of these have included persistent themes for credit unions, such as reaching out to Realtors and tightening up housing finance programs to better meet the tighter deadlines required by purchase money loans.
And 2011 brought indications that CU’s efforts had begun to bear fruit. For what may be the first time ever, a credit union became the biggest source of housing finance for a major metropolitan area in the U.S. in 2011.
According to data collected by the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council, more home purchasers in the Madison, Wis., area chose the UW Credit Union to finance their home loans than any other lender in 2010, the latest year for which data was available.
FFIEC collected home mortgage data and published a report on the 2010 data in September 2011. The Madison statistical area includes the Dane, Sauk and Iowa counties and includes over 500,000 residents. The report indicated the credit union had lent $83 million in money to fund new real estate loans in 2010.
“This is the first time the federally published data has reported a credit union in top position for home purchase financing in the Madison metropolitan statistical area,” said Paul Kundert, CEO of UW Credit Union, when the data was announced. “Although home purchase volumes have been trending down, our home purchase mortgage lending market share has been on the rise and has more than doubled since 2005.”
And there are some signs that housing finance will improve in 2012. TransUnion, one of the nation’s three national credit bureaus, has forecast lower mortgage delinquency rates in 2012.