Letter: USMI Calls for Senate Finance Committee to Co-Sponsor the Middle Class Mortgage Insurance Premium Act of 2022

USMI sent letters to members of the Senate Finance Committee encouraging them to co-sponsor the Middle Class Mortgage Insurance Premium Act of 2022, introduced by Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and co-sponsored by Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO). USMI writes, “This important bipartisan legislation would expand eligibility for and make permanent the tax deduction for MI premium payments for borrowers who put less than 20 percent down to purchase their home and qualify for financing thanks to private MI or government-backed MI through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), or the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).” Read our letters to Chairman Ron Wyden and Ranking Member Mike Crapo.

Letter: Comments to CFPB on HDMA Rule Assessment

USMI submitted a comment letter to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) in response to its Request for Information (RFI) on the assessment of the 2015 Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) Rule. In the letter, USMI discusses the importance of the HMDA Rule in eliminating lender discrimination and its value in monitoring how regulatory changes impact who receives mortgages. USMI believes that the benefits of the HMDA Rule’s expanded reporting requirements, including for compliance personnel and technology systems, outweigh the incremental costs for mortgage lenders to comply with the rule. We encourage the CFPB to work with the FHFA to expand analytical capabilities by publicly releasing more granular loan-level mortgage origination data. Click here to read the full letter.

 

Press Release: Comment Letter on FHFA’s NPR on “Amendments to the Enterprise Regulatory Capital Framework Rule”

WASHINGTON — U.S. Mortgage Insurers (USMI), the association representing the nation’s leading private mortgage insurance (MI) companies, today submitted a comment letter to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) on its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPR) on “Amendments to the Enterprise Regulatory Capital Framework (ERCF) Rule – Prescribed Leverage Buffer Amount and Credit Risk Transfer.” In its letter, USMI emphasizes the importance of setting appropriate, balanced, and analytically justified requirements for the government-sponsored enterprises (Enterprises), Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, to simultaneously ensure their financial strength and borrowers’ continued access to affordable mortgage finance credit in the conventional market.

“We appreciate the work FHFA has undertaken to date to provide for minimum capital requirements for the Enterprises, including the December 2020 final rule to establish a post-conservatorship capital framework,” said Lindsey Johnson, President of USMI. “While a robust framework is necessary to ensure the stability of the housing finance system, overly stringent requirements or ones that inaccurately reflect the risks of the assets held by the Enterprises can be disruptive. It is critical FHFA creates a capital framework that strikes an appropriate balance between maintaining borrowers’ access to affordable mortgage credit and ensuring the Enterprises and taxpayers are protected from risk.”

In its comments, USMI writes the final rule ensures the Enterprises have sufficient levels of capital to withstand a steep economic downturn but recommends the following to FHFA:

  • Adjust credit risk transfer (CRT) minimum risk weight floor to lower than 5 percent. USMI writes that any CRT floor should be designed to consider whether it will have the unintended consequences of discouraging the use of CRT or motivate CRT structures in which the Enterprises retain credit risk simply to justify the arbitrary capital floor. It urges FHFA to consider adjusting the CRT minimum risk weight floor lower than its proposed 5 percent change to a level closer to the statistically determined risk in a retained position to better align the CRT decisioning with the underlying economics and risks posed by the transaction. USMI also recommends FHFA establish and make public the model used to assess the CRT capital benefit, the statistical basis for any floor, and an analysis of the CRT capital treatment impact on the statutory goals of the Enterprises.
  • Consider alternative methods to determine the Prescribed Leverage Buffer Amount (PLBA). USMI agrees that the PLBA needs to be adjusted, and that 1.5 percent is excessive, but it recommends FHFA consider alternative methods of determining the amount of the PLBA that more closely relate to risk than the Stability Capital Buffer. USMI writes that it emphatically agrees that the PLBA should not be the usual binding constraint on the Enterprises. However, the NPR does not explain why 50 percent of the Stability Capital Buffer is the appropriate standard. The Stability Capital Buffer itself is a subjectively determined capital requirement and no rationale has been provided for why 5 basis points times market share over 5 percent is chosen, how it is related to the risk, or why the threat to the national housing finance system is not adequately dealt with through the other elements of the ERCF.
  • Reduce the single-family risk weight floor to 10 percent or less. USMI recommends the minimum 20 percent risk weight floor for single-family mortgages be reduced to 10 percent or less to more accurately account for the improvements in mortgage lending since the 2008 financial crisis, and to reflect and allow for credit enhancement, while also still requiring the Enterprises to hold an amount of capital against remote credit risk exposure more accurately. Reducing the single-family risk weight floor to 10 percent or less better achieves this outcome.
  • Make changes to the Countercyclical Adjustment. While FHFA does not discuss in the NPR, USMI does comment on the Countercyclical Adjustment impact within the 2020 ERCF final rule. Significant home price appreciation (HPA), such as what occurred over the last two years, under the Countercyclical Adjustment, will require the Enterprises to hold more capital against higher mark-to-market loan-to-value (MTMLTV) loans, likely resulting in increased pricing of these loans. Specifically, USMI urges FHFA to:
    • Reconsider and recalibrate the Countercyclical Adjustment. USMI recommends this to ensure the outcome of this adjustment meet FHFA’s policy objectives and considers real-world scenarios where there is significant home price appreciation above or below an inflation adjusted long-term trend. 
    • Report on whether significant HPA is based on market fundamentals or something else. While FHFA notes in the final rule it does not have discretion around the Countercyclical Adjustment, this should be re-evaluated. Based on market data, including FHFA’s own Housing Price Index, the agency should determine and report on why home prices are escalating. It may be appropriate for FHFA to have discretion to cap capital increases to up to 20 percent when HPA exceeds a certain threshold, rather than allowing for a 40-50 percent increase as would be applicable in today’s market with today’s market HPA. 
    • Consider recalibrating the Countercyclical Adjustment based on the reassessment. To address the significant impact that the current approach can have on the required capital, and thus the pricing of certain loans, FHFA should consider the different recommendations made in the 2020 NPR responses, including using asymmetric MTMLTV collars, and/or allowing for wider collars (perhaps 7.5 or 10 percent) during increased HPA versus when home prices are declining, or capping the capital increases to up to 20 percent when HPA exceeds a certain threshold.
    • Simplify the language and formula for the Countercyclical Adjustment. The Countercyclical Adjustment element of the ERCF is extremely complex and difficult to analyze.  It would benefit all stakeholders if FHFA took a more direct and simpler to read and analyze approach to this section.

An executive summary of USMI’s comments can be found here. USMI’s 2020 full comments can be found here and an executive summary can be found here. USMI’s comments on the FHFA’s 2018 proposed Enterprise capital framework can be found here.

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U.S. Mortgage Insurers (USMI) is dedicated to a housing finance system backed by private capital that enables access to housing finance for borrowers while protecting taxpayers. Mortgage insurance offers an effective way to make mortgage credit available to more people. USMI is ready to help build the future of homeownership. Learn more at www.usmi.org.

Letter: Comments to FHFA on Amendments to the Enterprise Regulatory Capital Framework Rule

In November 2021, USMI submitted a comment letter to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) on its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPR) on “Amendments to the Enterprise Regulatory Capital Framework (ERCF) Rule – Prescribed Leverage Buffer Amount and Credit Risk Transfer.” In its comments, USMI writes the final rule ensures the Enterprises have sufficient levels of capital to withstand a steep economic downturn but recommends the following to FHFA:  

  • Adjust credit risk transfer (CRT) minimum risk weight floor to lower than 5 percent. USMI writes that any CRT floor should be designed to consider whether it will have the unintended consequences of discouraging the use of CRT or motivate CRT structures in which the Enterprises retain credit risk simply to justify the arbitrary capital floor. It urges FHFA to consider adjusting the CRT minimum risk weight floor lower than its proposed 5 percent change to a level closer to the statistically determined risk in a retained position to better align the CRT decisioning with the underlying economics and risks posed by the transaction. USMI also recommends FHFA establish and make public the model used to assess the CRT capital benefit, the statistical basis for any floor, and an analysis of the CRT capital treatment impact on the statutory goals of the Enterprises.  
  • Consider alternative methods to determine the Prescribed Leverage Buffer Amount (PLBA). USMI agrees that the PLBA needs to be adjusted, and that 1.5 percent is excessive, but it recommends FHFA consider alternative methods of determining the amount of the PLBA that more closely relate to risk than the Stability Capital Buffer. USMI writes that it emphatically agrees that the PLBA should not be the usual binding constraint on the Enterprises. However, the NPR does not explain why 50 percent of the Stability Capital Buffer is the appropriate standard. The Stability Capital Buffer itself is a subjectively determined capital requirement and no rationale has been provided for why 5 basis points times market share over 5 percent is chosen, how it is related to the risk, or why the threat to the national housing finance system is not adequately dealt with through the other elements of the ERCF.  
  • Reduce the single-family risk weight floor to 10 percent or less. USMI recommends the minimum 20 percent risk weight floor for single-family mortgages be reduced to 10 percent or less to more accurately account for the improvements in mortgage lending since the 2008 financial crisis, and to reflect and allow for credit enhancement, while also still requiring the Enterprises to hold an amount of capital against remote credit risk exposure more accurately. Reducing the single-family risk weight floor to 10 percent or less better achieves this outcome.  
  • Make changes to the Countercyclical Adjustment. While FHFA does not discuss in the NPR, USMI does comment on the Countercyclical Adjustment impact within the 2020 ERCF final rule. Significant home price appreciation (HPA), such as what occurred over the last two years, under the Countercyclical Adjustment, will require the Enterprises to hold more capital against higher mark-to-market loan-to-value (MTMLTV) loans, likely resulting in increased pricing of these loans. Specifically, USMI urges FHFA to:  
    • Reconsider and recalibrate the Countercyclical Adjustment. USMI recommends this to ensure the outcome of this adjustment meet FHFA’s policy objectives and considers real-world scenarios where there is significant home price appreciation above or below an inflation adjusted long-term trend.   
    • Report on whether significant HPA is based on market fundamentals or something else. While FHFA notes in the final rule it does not have discretion around the Countercyclical Adjustment, this should be re-evaluated. Based on market data, including FHFA’s own Housing Price Index, the agency should determine and report on why home prices are escalating. It may be appropriate for FHFA to have discretion to cap capital increases to up to 20 percent when HPA exceeds a certain threshold, rather than allowing for a 40-50 percent increase as would be applicable in today’s market with today’s market HPA.  
    • Consider recalibrating the Countercyclical Adjustment based on the reassessment. To address the significant impact that the current approach can have on the required capital, and thus the pricing of certain loans, FHFA should consider the different recommendations made in the 2020 NPR responses, including using asymmetric MTMLTV collars, and/or allowing for wider collars (perhaps 7.5 or 10 percent) during increased HPA versus when home prices are declining, or capping the capital increases to up to 20 percent when HPA exceeds a certain threshold. 
    • Simplify the language and formula for the Countercyclical Adjustment. The Countercyclical Adjustment element of the ERCF is extremely complex and difficult to analyze.  It would benefit all stakeholders if FHFA took a more direct and simpler to read and analyze approach to this section. 

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U.S. Mortgage Insurers (USMI) is dedicated to a housing finance system backed by private capital that enables access to housing finance for borrowers while protecting taxpayers. Mortgage insurance offers an effective way to make mortgage credit available to more people. USMI is ready to help build the future of homeownership. Learn more at www.usmi.org. 

Press Release: USMI Submits Comment Letter on FHFA’s Request for Input on Enterprise Equitable Housing Finance Plans

WASHINGTON — U.S. Mortgage Insurers (USMI), the association representing the nation’s leading private mortgage insurance (MI) companies, submitted a comment letter to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) on its Request for Input (RFI) on “Enterprise Equitable Housing Finance Plans” (the Plans), which articulates a framework by which the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs or Enterprises), Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, will be required to prepare and implement three-year plans to advance equity in housing finance.

“USMI commends the FHFA for soliciting feedback on the Plans to identify the barriers to sustainable housing opportunities, set goals to address those barriers, and implement policies to address them. The private MI industry welcomes the opportunity to work with FHFA, the GSEs, and other housing finance stakeholders to support the Biden Administration’s goal of a comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all,” said Lindsey Johnson, President of USMI. “As an industry that is dedicated to the U.S. housing finance system and exclusively serves homebuyers with limited access to funds for large down payments, USMI and its member companies are keenly interested in advancing policies that promote access to the conventional mortgage market and support sustainable homeownership.”

In order to address longstanding inequities in the housing finance system, USMI encourages the GSEs to explore and implement geography- (including historically redlines areas, areas of concentrated poverty, and rural areas) and income-based initiatives to expand minority homebuying opportunities in the conventional mortgage market.

On behalf of the private mortgage industry, USMI routinely engages with policymakers to sustainably expand access to homeownership and address barriers that disproportionately impact minority homebuyers. USMI believes that the following actions represent viable policies to promote sustainable homeownership and level the playing field for minority homebuyers:

  • Review and Reform Loan-Level Price Adjustments (LLPAs): As 2008-era LLPA fees remain in place and continue to be disproportionately paid in the form of higher interest rates by low- and moderate-income (LMI) and minority borrowers, USMI urges the FHFA to review and reform LLPAs. Changes in the LLPA framework should account for the numerous improvements in the housing finance system since LLPAs were introduced in 2008, promote access to affordable conventional mortgages, and appropriately balance the credit risk being assumed by the GSEs.  Given all of the significant improvements in mortgage lending and risk management, USMI supports a holistic review of GSE pricing, including LLPAs, and the current level of cross-subsidization to support LMI homebuyers.
  • Review and Revise the Enterprise Regulatory Capital Framework (ERCF): As stated in USMI’s August 31, 2020 comment letter, USMI supports FHFA’s efforts to establish capital standards for the GSEs that appropriately reflect their activities and risk exposures to ensure that capital requirements do not arbitrarily price prospective homebuyers out of the conventional mortgage market. As entities with congressionally-mandated public missions, the GSEs’ capital requirements should promote an appropriate level of cross-subsidization and support LMI borrowers. USMI welcomed FHFA’s September 15 release of a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPR) to amend the ERCF to address two critical elements: (1) the prescribed leverage buffer amount (PLBA); and (2) the treatment of credit risk transfer (CRT) transactions. Ultimately, USMI believes that the proposed changes, coupled with the additional recommendations made by USMI, will more appropriately balance prudent risk management and the level of capital for the GSEs, and their statutory missions. 
  • Modify the Preferred Stock Purchase Agreements (PSPAs): USMI welcomed FHFA’s September 14 announcement on the suspension of portions of the January 2021 PSPA amendments, most notably the caps on the acquisition of “high-risk” loans. USMI encourages the agency to remove, and not merely suspend, the provisions concerning the so-called “high-risk” loan acquisition caps that disproportionately impact minority access to conventional mortgages.
  • Finalize the New Products and Activities Rule: While innovation can be beneficial for expanding homeownership opportunities, USMI highlights the need for a transparent and thorough regulatory mechanism to assess new GSE activities and products to ensure they do not disintermediate other market participants. USMI is encouraged by FHFA’s ongoing review of the GSEs’ pilots, activities, and products to ensure they align with the Enterprises’ explicit public policy objectives in compliance with their charters. USMI believes that new products, activities, and pilots should only be allowed when there is clear and compelling evidence that the GSEs are needed to fill a market void that the private market cannot meet.
  • Greater Data and Transparency: To address longstanding inequities in the housing finance system, USMI strongly believes that consistent transparency should be hard-wired into the GSEs’ credit policies and that data around the Enterprises’ performance in key areas, most notably access to credit for minority households, should be publicly available. As noted in USMI’s comment letter, the association firmly believes that additional transparency and data sharing initiatives will enable market participants to enhance access, affordability, and sustainability in the mortgage markets. 

“USMI fully supports increased public-private collaboration along with advancing a coordinated housing policy that ensures all borrowers have access to mortgage products in both the conventional and government-backed markets while maintaining safe and sound operations at the GSEs. Policymakers and stakeholders should work together to implement policies that promote access to sustainable housing finance credit to ensure the ability of consumers to purchase and stay in their homes.”

USMI’s full comments on the FHFA’s RFI on the Plans can be found here.

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U.S. Mortgage Insurers (USMI) is dedicated to a housing finance system backed by private capital that enables access to housing finance for borrowers while protecting taxpayers. Mortgage insurance offers an effective way to make mortgage credit available to more people. USMI is ready to help build the future of homeownership. Learn more at www.usmi.org.

Letter: Major Housing Industry Trades and Homeownership Advocates on Tax Treatment of MI Premiums

USMI joined a coalition of housing finance organizations including the Mortgage Bankers Association, National Association of Home Builders, National Association of REALTORS®, and National Housing Conference, in sending a letter to U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neil. The undersigned organizations urged the committee to modify current law to make the mortgage insurance premium tax deduction permanent and to eliminate its income phaseout. As a diverse coalition of stakeholders in the housing finance system, they affirmed that the current AGI phaseout represents a burdensome eligibility criterion for American families to claim the mortgage insurance deduction and that millions more homeowners would benefit from a permanent extension that eliminates the AGI phaseout. Click here to read the letter.

Letter: Infrastructure Bipartisan Senate Group on Usage of G-Fees

USMI joined a coalition of other housing finance organizations, including National Association of REALTORS® and National Housing Conference, in sending a letter to the bipartisan Senate group negotiating infrastructure framework. In this letter, the coalition requested that lawmakers refrain from utilizing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the government sponsored enterprises or “GSEs”) guarantee fees (“g-fees”) as a source of funding offsets. As representatives of institutions that span the entire housing finance ecosystem, the coalition reaffirmed the belief that g-fees should only be used as originally intended: as a critical risk management tool to protect against potential mortgage credit losses and to support the GSEs’ charter duties. Read the full letter here.

Letters to Congress: MI Premium Deductibility Proposal

USMI joined Mortgage Bankers Association, National Association of Home Builders, and National Association of REALTORS® in submitting letters to Chairman Richard Neal and Ranking Member Kevin Brady of the House Committee on Ways and Means as well as Chairman Ron Wyden and Ranking Member Mike Crapo of the Senate Finance Committee. The letters recommend that the mortgage insurance premium tax deduction be made permanent and the adjusted gross income (AGI) phaseout be eliminated. The current phaseout represents a burdensome eligibility criterion for American families to claim MI deduction and millions more homeowners would benefit from a permanent extension that eliminates the AGI phaseout. As affordability remains a persistent barrier to homeownership across the country, permanently making the MI premium tax deductible and eliminating the AGI phaseout would support both existing homeowners as well as prospective homebuyers.

Letter: Comments on Credit Risk Retention Rule

USMI joined with several other housing and finance organizations to submit a comment letter to banking and housing regulators on June 11, providing observations and recommendations with respect to the review of certain provisions of the Credit Risk Retention Rule. The rule was issued by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Following careful analysis of the changes issued by the CFPB in its final QM rule, the organizations expressed strong support for the continued alignment of the QRM and QM frameworks. The letter affirms that the alignment between these frameworks facilitate a stable housing market and ensures access to conventional mortgage credit for borrowers across the country, including low‐ and moderate‐income and underserved households, and first‐time homebuyers.

Letter: To The Joint Committee On Taxation To Make MI Tax Deduction Permanent & Eliminate AGI Phase Out

On April 16, USMI sent a letter to the Joint Committee on Taxation in response to the legislative proposal to make permanent the Mortgage Insurance Premium Deduction and to eliminate the Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) phase out. In the letter, USMI discussed how two key aspects of the current deduction diminish its effectiveness: (1) its temporary nature; and (2) its relatively low AGI phase out. USMI recommends modifying current law to make the deduction permanent and to eliminate the AGI phase out. Making these changes would benefit more taxpayers who are trying to buy homes and would eliminate the only itemized deduction that is subject to an AGI phase out. See the full letter here.

 

Comment Letter: CFPB on QM Compliance Delay and GSE Patch Extension

USMI submitted a comment letter to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in response to its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPR) to delay the mandatory compliance date of the December 2020 General Qualified Mortgage (QM) final rule and the extension of the Temporary GSE QM category (GSE Patch). In the letter, USMI discussed both the interplay between the proposed extension of the GSE Patch and the January 2021 amendments to the Preferred Stock Purchase Agreements (PSPAs) as well as the value of increased monitoring and access to mortgage underwriting data for policymakers and housing finance stakeholders. USMI urged the Bureau to work expeditiously with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mark Calabria to further amend the PSPAs to restore authority for the GSEs to acquire mortgages in reliance on the GSE Patch. See the full letter here.

Letter: Comments on FHFA RFI on Appraisal-Related Policies

The Honorable Mark A. Calabria
Director Federal Housing Finance Agency
400 7th Street SW Washington, DC 20019

Dear Director Calabria:

On behalf of U.S. Mortgage Insurers (USMI) and our member companies, we appreciate the opportunity to provide feedback on the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s (FHFA) initiatives to modernize appraisal processes and to the specific questions presented in the Request for Information (RFI) on Appraisal-Related Policies, Practices, and Processes. As a general matter, the private mortgage insurance (MI) industry understands and agrees with the FHFA that there are opportunities to modernize appraisal processes and to improve the quality of residential property valuation practices. There have been significant advancements in technology, data aggregation, and analytics throughout the mortgage finance industry that have positively impacted many professions and processes. Collateral risk assessment and real estate valuation can benefit from these same technological advancements if done appropriately. As Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, collectively the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs), seek to modernize their appraisal policies and collateral valuation technologies, USMI strongly believes that the FHFA should implement rules designed to ensure that innovations around the appraisal process are done when there is demonstrable benefit to the broader housing finance system, including greater transparency, efficiency, accuracy of property valuations, and lower costs for borrowers and market participants. While we provide specific comments, observations, and recommendations to many of the issues raised and questions posed in the RFI in our responses in Appendix A, our initial comments below focus primarily on the increased use of appraisal waivers through 2020, as well as specific observations related to the above 80 percent loan-to-value (LTV) segment of the market and recommendations to address areas of increased risks.

Balancing Innovation & Prudent Mortgage Lending

USMI and our member companies recognize that there is an opportunity through appraisal modernization to address many of the existing challenges within the appraisal process, including those that stem from the shortage of qualified appraisers in the market and the unique challenges in rural markets of getting appraisers and having comparable properties for valuations. Given the standardization role that the GSEs play within the marketplace, as well as their dominant market presence, there is an opportunity for industry stakeholders and the GSEs to come together to promote appropriate solutions that drive efficiencies and lead to more accurate valuations in a way that appropriately balances risk and operational flexibility.

At the same time, USMI members continue to appreciate the role of appraisers in the mortgage underwriting process, especially since automated or model-based solutions may not be appropriate for certain properties and transactions. Importantly, for homebuyers, an appraiser’s inspection report serves to affirm, when appropriate, the reasonableness of home price discovery via an arms-length negotiation.

USMI members also acknowledge that appraisal technology has the potential to improve the efficiency of the mortgage underwriting process, however it is critical that there be appropriate transparency, monitoring, and governance. Modernization should be accompanied by guardrails to minimize the risk of incorrect collateral valuation outcomes and any adverse effects on mortgage underwriting. Further, model weaknesses and discrepancies, and ways to mitigate for those weaknesses, should also be considered for determining when and how to use these technologies. It is important that FHFA establish policies that ensure collateral valuation, including the use of competing technologies, such as the two GSEs’ collateral valuation tools, are not a source of competition between the GSEs. When used inappropriately, these tools have the potential to increase risk beyond their expected benefits to the housing finance system.

Many of the ongoing appraisal modernization efforts by the GSEs have led to general process improvements, however it is very important to recognize that automated valuation models (AVMs) and other alternatives to a full appraisal are not appropriate for every property or transaction. USMI believes they should be used in limited circumstances, and only with appropriate guardrails, particularly for higher LTV mortgages where risk is higher and valuation errors may have greater significance.

Data Democratization

The GSEs’ appraisal modernization initiatives have significantly expanded data requirements during the mortgage origination process, with the burden often falling on lenders, mortgage insurers, and other market participants to provide data that informs mortgage underwriting. Industry stakeholders have worked closely with the GSEs since the 2010 launch of the Uniform Mortgage Data Program (UMDP) to implement data collection procedures and technologies to provide data to the GSEs. Despite industry’s commitment to the UMDP and increased data integrity of the Uniform Residential Appraisal Report (URAR), market participants currently do not have a great deal of access to this important data repository. Access to this data would improve market participants’ operations, ultimately benefitting homebuyers and the strength of the housing finance system.

USMI recommends that the FHFA initiate a process to make collateral valuation data available to the parties that contributed to the analysis and that are part of the underwriting process, including appraisers and appraisal management companies, lenders, private mortgage insurers, title insurance companies, investors, and data analytics providers. Greater insight into the GSEs’ collateral valuation technologies and processes will assist with analyses of individual mortgage transactions. Further, the FHFA should implement policies that require the GSEs to share more information about their AVMs, including the tolerances that are incorporated. Data democratization will greatly enhance transparency within the housing finance system and improve risk management practices and strategies across the market.

GSE Appraisal Waiver Policies

One element of the GSEs’ appraisal policies, practices, and processes that we believe warrants particular attention is the expanded use of appraisal waivers for high LTV refinance transactions. While both GSEs have had appraisal waiver programs for nearly a decade, specifically with some of the changes made during 2020, there has been a significant expansion of these programs during the mortgage underwriting process. The share of GSE-backed mortgages receiving appraisal waivers has surged, including a dramatic increase in the use of appraisal waivers for higher LTV loans.

As an industry that is exclusively focused on high LTV mortgage originations, USMI welcomes the opportunity to share our observations concerning the expansion of appraisal waivers in that segment of the market. Appraisal waivers can materially impact LTV ratios and the pricing and risk assessments associated with the GSEs’ guarantee fees, MI premiums, and loan-level capital requirements.3 Importantly, these considerations are more acute for higher LTV loans since the margin of error is slim for these mortgages and could expose the GSEs and the housing finance system to greater credit risk.4 Inaccurate valuations that result from appraisal waivers could enable delivery of loans with LTVs that arbitrarily – and inappropriately – misprice or eliminate MI credit risk protection. Additionally, automated and index-based valuations rely on broader price trends that can overshadow local or property-specific conditions that would point to higher LTVs. Furthermore, the different approaches to appraisal waivers by the two GSEs create frictions that appear to be incentivizing undesirable lender behaviors and further exacerbating these risks.

Industry Observations – Overall Increase in Appraisal Waivers

While the use of appraisal waivers has increased since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the uptick was most notable when the GSEs expanded appraisal waiver eligibility to mortgages with LTVs up to 90 percent in the spring of 2020. Despite the changes that allowed for the significant increase of appraisal waivers, there was little transparency of data around why these changes were necessary, what outcomes they might have, and what guardrails were in place. In January 2020, approximately 85 percent of 80.01-90 percent LTV, rate/term refinance loans at the GSEs received full appraisals and only 15 percent of loans received appraisal waivers, exclusively through Fannie Mae’s program.5 There was a significant decrease in mortgages with full appraisals throughout 2020 and by October 2020, only about 50 percent of GSE-backed 80.01-90 percent LTV, rate/term refinance mortgages received full appraisals.

Industry Observations – AUS Shopping

As a general matter, USMI believes FHFA and the GSEs should establish clear guidelines to ensure that collateral valuation, including the use of different appraisal methodologies and models, is not a source of competition between the two GSEs. Following an internal study of “repeat address transactions” (i.e., transactions where data on the most recent valuation and a prior valuation are available), USMI member companies have noticed significant – and in some respects concerning – differences in valuations between the two GSEs’ respective appraisal waiver programs. FHFA should be mindful of the potential for systemic overvaluations with one of the GSEs’ programs when benchmarked to a local housing price index (HPI) and recognize the lack of transparency around the GSEs’ valuation technologies. This could manipulate the mortgage market and result in lenders’ increased utilization of a specific GSE’s automated underwriting and collateral valuation systems to receive favorable property valuations.

USMI members have also observed, and shared our observations with FHFA, that some lenders appear to be “AUS shopping” to optimize loan execution by testing Fannie Mae’s Desktop Underwriter (DU) and Freddie Mac’s Loan Product Advisor (LPA) for a potential appraisal waiver valuation “advantage.” Our industry has seen compelling evidence that lenders are increasingly running loans through both AUSs to determine which one allows the most “advantageous” property valuation. It is important to note that each GSE conducts a validation when it assesses its own model, a process that does not make presumptions about the other GSE’s model and where it may fail. Applying the two models to the same loan is inconsistent with how they’re validated and effectively undermines the credibility of the GSEs’ own validation processes. The GSEs themselves are aware of the “gaming” potential and USMI strongly encourages the GSEs to take actions to address this concern and prevent inappropriate gaming that might occur through the use of the appraisal waiver valuations.

Industry Observations – Compensating Factors for Appraisal Waivers

USMI members have conducted a forensic analysis of loan files with appraisal waivers and found that both GSE appraisal waiver programs consistently missed adverse site conditions that would have been apparent to a trained appraiser. A primary drawback of appraisal waivers is that they miss critical property data during the valuation process that should be collected and analyzed as part of the underwriting process. While property data need not be concurrent with a refinance transaction, recent data is important to industry participants, especially those with a vested interest in mortgage credit risk post-closing.

While the use of appraisal waivers has dramatically increased, there has been minimal transparency concerning whether the GSEs have specific credit policies regarding loan eligibility for their respective appraisal waiver programs. The expanded use of appraisal waivers should be accompanied by a transparent set of compensating factors for determining loan-by-loan waiver decisions. Data from 2020 suggests that at least one of the GSEs takes into account debt-to-income (DTI) ratio, credit score, and whether the borrower has a prior full appraisal on file. USMI believes these types of overlays are appropriate to mitigate the incremental risk of appraisal waivers. While not directly tied to collateral valuation, weaker DTIs and credit scores may correlate to deferred maintenance and property condition issues that go undetected when appraisal waivers are utilized.

Property data collection is a particularly important part of the valuation and underwriting processes. One appropriate guardrail for mortgages that receive appraisal waivers or other flexibilities would be to require a property inspection followed by a Desktop Review. One of the biggest challenges with the appraisal waiver programs is that property data collection is missed, and this policy would help mitigate the risk associated with underwriting a mortgage without a full appraisal.

Recommendations

Many of the appraisal modernization efforts of the GSEs over the years have led to general process improvements, however it is very important to recognize that AVMs and other alternatives to a full appraisal are not appropriate for every situation. For the reasons outlined above, USMI believes appraisal alternatives should be used in limited circumstances, and only with appropriate guardrails. To better tailor the use of appraisal waivers, it is critical that the GSEs’ programs be subject to robust oversight by FHFA and that strong governance policies be in place to promote transparency and facilitate data sharing with market mortgage market participants. It is especially important that the FHFA implement policies that recognize and speak to the unique risks associated with the use of waiver appraisals in the high LTV segment of the market. As the equity position on a mortgage decreases, the risk of loss severity can increase, and these mortgages cannot merely rely on amortization or home price appreciation (HPA) to guard against risk stemming from incorrect AVM valuations. FHFA and the GSEs should implement policies to address the potential for “gaming” to test and shop appraisal waiver programs to reduce LTVs and/or reduce or eliminate MI coverage requirements. Particular attention should be given to the 80 percent LTV threshold, which is a segment of the market that has historically been the largest contributor of GSE losses. The usage of appraisal waivers to “game” the 80 percent LTV segment to reduce or eliminate MI coverage shifts a greater burden of losses toward taxpayers and away from private capital. Further, while LTV is – to some degree – correlated to loan performance, guardrails such as the presence of compensating factors should be considered to inform policies that pertain to this specific segment of the market.

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USMI appreciates the opportunity to share its views on these important issues with the FHFA. We welcome any questions you may have, as well as requests for data to supplement our observations and recommendations. USMI welcomes efforts by FHFA to properly balance innovation in the housing finance system with the need for transparent standards and appropriate protections.

Sincerely,

Lindsey Johnson
President

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