Slowest Moving Home Markets Grapple with Local Distress
For those credit unions still facing a lingering slump in certain housing markets, some have downplayed their mortgage programs in favor of other loan products to boost their lending portfolios.
In the top 10 slowest moving housing markets in the U.S., homes have taken six months or more to sell, according to a recent study from online real estate firm Trulia. The challenge for many credit unions is doing what they can to keep their lending programs moving forward, experts advised.
“It's worth remembering that in real estate, markets really are local,” said CUNA Senior Economist Steve Rick. “So it's very hard to say what factors in a given market are definitely promoting rapid home sales or are definitely slowing them up.”
Rick distinguished between national factors that have influenced real estate markets across the country and local factors that could have an even stronger impact but in smaller areas.
Among the national factors were Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac regulations, which Rick said had a direct impact on how restrictive mortgage underwriting might be in housing markets around the country. Interest rates, which tend to be set for the whole nation, will likely be the same from community to community.
“One of the biggest local factors is population growth.” Rick suggested. “If people aren't moving into a given area or having families, it's harder to keep a strong housing market going.”
Others include foreclosures or otherwise economically distressed houses in the area as well as homeowners who may still be underwater on their existing mortgages. This tends to slow a market down because the homeowners do not feel free to sell their existing homes or purchase new ones, Rick said.
Borrowers will still want to have at least 20% equity in their homes before they feel comfortable selling them without closing costs, which could lead to being underwater on the sale again, Rick explained. Whether the factors influencing them are national or local, credit unions in slow moving real estate markets have adopted a variety of approaches to adjust to the longer sales schedules and reduced mortgage demand.
Some are using the slower market pace to help members get adequately prepared for home ownership, according to Tim Mislanski, chief lending officer at the $2.8 billion Wright-Patt Credit Union in Fairborn, Ohio.
“The additional time can let a credit union help its members really make sure they are prepared for home ownership,” Mislanski said. “Helping members overcome barriers such as past credit performance (delinquency, short sale or foreclosure) through credit counseling and down payment accumulation would all be useful steps.”
Others have used the pressure of slow-booked loans to find niches for underutilized products. The $360 million CALL Federal Credit Union in Richmond, Va., has kept its mortgage refinancing business alive with programs that help members refinance existing loans into seven, 10- and 15-year notes.
“We have managed to keep our mortgage business pretty steady,” said Teresa Houtz, chief lending officer at CALL. “We still offer and do a 30-year fixed, but we don't book many of them. They often get sold to the secondary market. But we do hold and service these other, shorter term, loans and we have found those are popular with members.”
While CALL is a community-chartered credit union drawing members from Richmond and three surrounding counties, employees of the Phillip Morris company founded the financial institution in 1962. Houtz said members of this select employee group have provided a strong mortgage niche.
“Their incomes are significantly higher and they are often getting closer to retirement, so they are the ones who have been attracted to the idea of paying their mortgage off before they retire,” Houtz said.
The $1.4 billion American Eagle Federal Credit Union in Hartford, Conn., reported picking up its purchase money lending effort as conventional refinances dwindled but growth was still hard to come by, said Edward Fox, chief lending officer at American Eagle. While the credit union lending hasn't fallen off, it would like to grow faster, he noted.
Hartford, like many regions around the nation, was slow to emerge from a hard winter, Fox said. Real estate remained sluggish even though the rest of the economy started showing signs of improvement. The local refinance market really start to slow down in the middle of 2013 and as a result, marketing purchase money loans and processing applications had taken a while. American Eagle is now on pace to make more of the loans than it had during 2013, he noted.
Rick Hammond, president/CEO of the $613 million S.C. State Federal Credit Union in another slow market city, Columbia, S.C., said the cooperative focused its mortgage program on 15-year notes and home equity loans for members who still have equity in their homes.
“We still do a 30-year fixed rate, but we don't keep them,” Hammond said. “We sell them on pretty consistently, but we keep the 15-year notes and the home equities are still a money-making product.”
Hammond said Columbia did not see a price rise during the run up to the housing crisis so there wasn't a huge drop when the bubble burst. Still, he noticed most of the home equity loans were for larger renovations or big capital projects such as for new furnaces or new roofs. The costs of car loans had fallen so far that the credit union doesn't see anyone taking out a home equity loan to finance a new car.
During his career stint at a savings and loan before and during the savings and loan crisis years ago, Hammond said the experience formed his reluctance to commit the credit union to real estate lending with long-term notes: “I saw what can happen when you put a lot of stock in real estate lending and don't want to go back there.”
Instead, S.C. State built on auto, consumer and home equity loans. A $100 Visa gift card campaign to members who brought in existing secured loans for refinancing had also been successful.