Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are increasingly demanding sellers repurchase mortgages that default years after they were made and buy back recent loans that aren’t even delinquent, according to PHH Corp. (PHH), the sixth-largest U.S. home lender.
The government-supported mortgage-finance companies have typically targeted their reviews of soured mortgages at loans that default within a few years. Expanding the array of mortgages the two firms sell back would mean lenders will face more difficulty escaping losses from mortgages granted before 2008, when the worst housing collapse since the Great Depression began accelerating.
An examiner at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s regulator raised concerns in March 2010 about Freddie Mac failing to seek repurchases on earlier loans that didn’t match their promised quality, the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s inspector general said in a Sept. 27 report criticizing the practice.
The official noted Freddie Mac had then reviewed less than 10 percent of failed 2005 and 2006 loans, “eliminating any chance to put ineligible loans back to the lenders from those years” and potentially costing the company billions of dollars, the report found.
Bank of America Corp. (BAC), which in 2008 bought Countrywide Financial Corp., then the country’s largest mortgage lender, has said this year that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s approach has been “evolving.” That signaled a tougher stance by the companies as the FHFA, under acting director Edward DeMarco, steps up its effort to have them recoup losses.
“The FHFA is taking its mandate very seriously,” PHH Chief Executive Officer Jerome Selitto said in an interview. His Mount Laurel, New Jersey-based company is able to rebuff about two-thirds of repurchase demands by the companies, he said.
Charles E. Haldeman, chief executive officer of McLean, Virginia-based Freddie Mac, declined to comment in an interview. Amy Bonitatibus, a spokeswoman for Washington-based Fannie Mae, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mortgage companies’ growing losses from debt that was sold to or insured by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration are leading to tougher standards on new loans, that in turn is hurting housing, Brian Chappelle, a partner at consulting firm Potomac Partners LLC, said during a panel discussion today at the conference.
Jared Bernstein, former economic policy adviser to Vice President Joseph Biden, said during the panel that “the FHFA very much views their job as protecting taxpayers’ book.” The problem is “protecting taxpayers is hurting homeowners and the economy,” he said.
Reducing lenders’ risks from mortgage repurchases is “one of the keys to improving” the federal Home Affordable Refinance Program, said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. HARP, which Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said Oct. 6 will be revamped this month in unspecified ways, allows certain borrowers with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgages to refinance even if they owe more than their home’s values.
PHH’s Selitto said in the interview that HARP also has been hindered in recent months by lenders facing a flood of traditional refinance applications, after mortgage rates fell to record lows. His company has been hiring to deal with the increased volume, with plans to host a job fair tomorrow seeking 150 employees, he said.
PHH is comfortable adding workers even though refinance demand may ebb in a few months because it has recently been hired by five additional financial-adviser companies to provide mortgages to their customers under their names. He declined to name the clients. The firm currently does such “private-label” work for firms including Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch unit, UBS AG and Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Selitto said.
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